Objections rise over intimate exams

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A delicate and somewhat uncomfortable debate has broken out in Norway over the immigration agency’s latest idea for verifying the age of asylum seekers: Clinical examinations of their sexual organs.

Officials at immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) are charged with screening foreigners entering Norway and seeking permanent residence. In recent years, the government has made it clear it wants to reduce the numbers of asylum seekers streaming into the country.

UDI officials can’t always believe the ages given by would-be refugees hoping to win residence permission. Minors have a better chance of winning approval, and some applicants are suspected of lying about their age, claiming they’re younger than they really are.

This has prompted a desire by UDI to find new ways of confirming the real age of applicants whose cases are under review. Newspaper Aftenposten reported this week that they’re resorting to unusual methods.

UDI has proposed subjecting the asylum seekers to physical examinations of “the hair on their faces, in their armpits and around their genitals (scrotum and penis),” according to Aftenposten . Such examinations, reasons UDI, would reveal persons who aren’t disclosing their correct age.

Humanitarian organizations are objecting, claiming the examinations would violate the applicants’ human rights. Norwegian People’s Aid (Norsk Folkehjelp) consulted law firm Stabell & Co, which responded that the proposal breaks both Norwegian law and international human rights conventions.

Several politicians are also voicing objections. “We are very skeptical about this,” Geir Bekkevold, immigration spokesman for the Christian Democrats, told Aftenposten . He added that Stabell’s response noted that the examinations wouldn’t be seen as voluntary.

Trond Helleland of the Conservative Party claims current physical examinations of applicants’ teeth and bones should be sufficient. “It’s important to reveal false identity,” he said, “but today’s methods should be used.”

“This has a lot to do with integrity,” added Trine Skei Grande of the Liberal Party (Venstre) . “The value (of the examinations) doesn’t offset the disadvantages.”

The proposal is up for evaluation by the Justice Ministry. UDI officials declined comment on it.