Criticism from the Scientific Community

Despite such severe criticism from the scientific community, the HPPP did not initially shut down; nor did it rule out the possibility of reintroducing a similar initiative in the future. In their defense, representatives of the UKBA insisted that only asylum-seekers who had already failed linguistic tests (another contested method of determining nationality) would be asked to provide mouth swabs, hair, and nail samples.79 The UKBA also released the following written response to scientific criticisms:

Ancestral DNA testing will not be used alone but will combine with language analysis, investigative interviewing techniques and other recognized forensic disciplines. The results of the combination of these procedures may indicate a person’s possible origin and enable the UK Border Agency to make further enquiries leading to the return of those intending on abusing the UK’s asylum system. This project is working with a number of leading scientists in this field who have studied differences in the genetic backgrounds of various population groups.80

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Several prominent scientists said they suspected that private labs, which were under much less regulatory oversight, had been involved in the project. And, while the UKBA has since tried to downplay the significance of the project, in the words of archaeologist Jessica Pearson, “[i]t’s peoples’ lives we’re dealing with.”81

The idea that the HPPP was “voluntary” conceals the threat of deportation, which was made if applicants did not consent to testing. It is false to say that one has a choice when one of the two available choices automatically implies penalization. As Richard Tutton, Christine Hauskeller, and Steve Sturdy explain, “In the UK, official and popular attitudes to those who request sanctuary have become dominated by a hermeneutic of suspicion. Public and policy discourses portray asylum seekers as mostly ‘bogus’ refugees seeking admission to the country for economic, not humanitarian, reasons” this also ignores that economic dispossession is itself a global humanitarian crisis.

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