From Iceland — Dental Age Tests for Asylum Seekers: Immigration Authorities Still Committed

Dental Age Tests for Asylum Seekers: Immigration Authorities Still Committed

Published March 13, 2020

Poppy Askham
Photo by
Art Bicnick

The Directorate of Immigration (UTL) has advertised on its website for a new partner to assist officials in their efforts to determine the age of asylum-seeking applicants through analysis of their teeth.

This follows yesterday’s announcement that the University of Iceland will not be renewing an unpopular agreement with the Department of Dentistry and the UTL that is set to expire on 25th March this year. The advertisement appears to confirm the UTL’s commitment to this method of age determination despite its controversial nature.

The University’s Decision

The decision to end the University of Iceland’s collaboration with the UTL was the result of an unanimous agreement between members of the University Council. The withdrawal is sure to be welcomed by the student body many of whom opposed the partnership when it was first announced in September 2018.

“The UTL’s commitment to using dental x-rays to determine age despite the UN’s advice guidance the current situation even more concerning.”

In its explication for the decision, the University cited a joint general comment by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (November 2017) that advised that immigration authorities should avoid using “medical methods based on, inter alia, bone and dental exam analysis, which may be inaccurate, with wide margins of error.” The UTL’s commitment to using dental x-rays to determine age despite the UN’s guidance makes the current situation even more concerning.

The UTL stressed that age assessments are not solely determined through dental analysis. Personal circumstances, the applicant’s own testimonies and submitted data are also taken into account. They also took care to point out that the practice is in full compliance with Icelandic immigration law. However, these assurances will undoubtedly do little to assuage the fears of Iceland´s vocal opponents of the practice.

The Problems With Dental Ageing Assessments

At the centre of objections to age assessments informed by dental analysis is the unreliability of the technique. According to the Britain’s Royal College of Paediatricians test results could be as much as five years either side of the patient’s true age.

The law grants unaccompanied asylum applicants aged 18 and under greater protection that means they are relatively unlikely to be deported to a non-EU state, meaning this high level of inaccuracy could have very serious implications for vulnerable immigrants. In a high profile example Abbas Ali, a Hazara youth who had fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan and then to Iceland was determined not be 18 as he claimed, but in fact 19, largely due to results from dental analysis. This result put him in danger of deportation back to Afghanistan where he could face religious persecution.

There has been widespread criticism of the unethical and unreliable nature of the technique from humanitarian aid organisations including UNICEF and the Red Cross. In response many states have moved towards removing dental age assessments from their immigration procedures in recent years. The UK has completely abandoned the practice and it is prohibited by federal law in the United States to exclusively use forensic dental testing to determine age.

The UTL’s advertisement for a new partner today means that Iceland is set to remain in the shrinking minority of states still committed to this highly controversial practice.

Read more of our previous reporting on UTL’s dental age determination methods here.

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