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Aer Lingus introduces language tests for foreigners
rights and freedoms |
Monday March 12, 2012 08:12 by Stuart
Racism probably aimed at African and Asian migrants
Aer Lingus (http://www.aerlingus.com/aboutus/), the national flag airline of Ireland, has introduced language tests at check-in for foreigners flying to Ireland. The tests are stated to be a security measure intended to detect imposters travelling on fake or stolen passports from a number of European Union countries. The selected foreign nationals are required to pass a written comprehension test in English and in their own language before admission to the flight. The affected countries are stated to be Greece, Italy and Portugal.
Although targeting 'high-risk' EU nationals, the language tests are probably aimed at detecting Asian or African migrants travelling on passports from these countries. This may be a taste of things to come in Ireland, with language and civics tests on Alan Shatter's list of priorities for 2012 (http://www.inis.gov.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PR12000001)
Aer Lingus introduces racist language testing
Aer Lingus has introduced pre-flight language tests for foreigners checking in to flights to Ireland. Aer Lingus is the national flag-carrier airline of Ireland and is 25.4 per cent owned by the Irish government. The new tests are conducted by Aer Lingus check-in employees, or by their foreign handling agents in overseas airports and are conducted in full public view within the queue in the departure area. The tests are notconducted by immigration or security officers, but civilians with minimal training. In some cases the staff are not able to read the language of the tests, even the English language version.
This process of publicly humiliating its own paying customers includes extremely primitive tests of comprehension - "sketch a triangle" and deeply degrading questions with unclear purpose - "show me any cash you have in your possession". The tests are probably intended to detect non-EU nationals - Asian and African migrants - using EU passports.
Aer Lingus refuses to comment on why they have instituted the policy. The response from Aer Lingus about the purpose, nature and scope of these new tests was limited to "Airlines are subject to fines if a passenger travels without valid documentation.". The Spanish handling agents for Aer Lingus, a company called Newco Airport Services (www.newcoas.es), was more forthcoming and has explained the policy as follows:
"1. We, as handling agent for Aer Lingus, perform systematic controls of the documentation of all passengers as required by the airline.
"2. For this task, we are provided with the clues and tools to perform such controls. One the most effective tools to determine if the passenger is carrying a valid document, or we have to ask for the help of the Police, is a language test.
"3. One of the most forged documents is the Greek passport together with the Portuguese and the Italian. Forged Greek passport are often used due to the difficulty Spanish people have to determine if the passenger speaks accurately. In fact, most of the Greek passports we have dealt with have turned out to be fraudulent documents."
In the age of biometric passport scanners, high-technology video surveillance and banking vigilance, it seems absurd that such primitive means would be employed against the pre-booked citizens of the European Union. Given the stated discrimination against citizens of a small number of countries within the European Union, it seems certain that the policy is legally dubious under Irish equality law or under European law protecting the rights of free movement.
LANGUAGE TEST: ENGLISH
1. Please write your forenames and family name in capital letters.
2. Please underline the numbers twelve and sixty-five:
- 12 18 24 37 41 49 57 65 73 89
3. Please write down in the following order: Your date of birth, place of birth and today's date.
4. Please point to the last page and to your photograph in the document before you.
5. Please show me any cash you have in your possession.
6. Please sketch a ladder and a triangle.
7. Please read out the script on the page of your document indicated.
8. What is your travel destination?
9. Please write the following numbers in figures:
- Eight hundred and seventy-seven, four hundred and twenty-one.
Point of Origin?
The Garda National Immigration Bureau (http://www.garda.ie/controller.aspx?page=31), the Department of Justice Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (http://www.inis.gov.ie/) have stated unequivocally that pre-flight language tests are not a requirement for travel to Ireland and that the issue is entirely a matter of Aer Lingus internal security policy. However, the tests themselves betray an interesting linguistic feature in Question 8, rendered in English as "What is your travel destination?", but in Greek as "Που θα πατε στιν Αγγλια;" ("where are you going in England?", perhaps because Aer Lingus obtained the text from a UK source.
It is interesting in this regard that Irish Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, signed a Joint Agreement with UK Minister for Immigration, Mr Damien Green regarding cooperation on measures to secure the external Common Travel Area border on 20 December 2011 (http://www.inis.gov.ie/en/INIS/Pages/Joint%20Agreement%...order). The Joint Agreement followed the successful appeal by more than 30 asylum seekers against their return to Greece (their point of entry to Europe), where they would face inhumane treatment (http://www.independent.ie/national-news/loophole-halts-....html).
Aer Lingus also participates in the UK Borders Agency Risk and Liaison Overseas (RALON) system, a scheme designed to protect the Common Travel Area (CTA) of the UK, Ireland, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man from non-European migrants. RALON is described by the UKBA as:
"Our risk and liaison overseas network (RALON) Checks before arrival teams work from 50 locations worldwide. RALON officers help airlines and local border control authorities ensure that passengers have valid passports and visas before they travel to the UK. Last year our network prevented more than 68,000 people without the correct documents travelling to the UK. Our border controls rely on airline officials overseas checking the travel documents of foreign nationals before they accept passengers for flights. Airlines can be fined significant sums for allowing improperly authorised passengers to travel to the UK. Since 2004 we have been providing practical advice and training to airline staff and law enforcement officials overseas. We trained more than 15,000 people last year to detect forgery and identify impostors." (http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents...-plan)
So are we now policing Her Majesty's borders for her?
Language test being applied at Aer Lingus check-in desk