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INTERPOL “wanted” alerts: using them as evidence and making them go away


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This post discusses issues arising for asylum practitioners from INTERPOL “wanted person” notices. The key points are

(i) you can find out, possibly quite quickly, if there is such a notice in place, which in the affirmative may help to establish a risk of persecution; and

(ii) if there is a notice in place, you can challenge it to ensure your client does not face a risk of arrest when s/he travels.

For full legal geekery on this topic, see my recent article, cited with approval by the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (see here).

INTERPOL alert = evidence of an arrest warrant

INTERPOL alerts – electronic alerts by which police in one country let other countries know they are after someone with a view to extradition – are often issued against refugees by their home countries, typically on spurious public order, fraud of terrorism charges (see the Fair Trials report Strengthening INTERPOL, which the author wrote). An INTERPOL wanted alert proves that there is an arrest warrant in the home country. It may, thus, support an asylum-seeker’s claim to be of interest to the authorities.

Obtaining disclosure of an INTERPOL alert

A check on INTERPOL’s public ‘wanted list’ may assist. But most INTERPOL alerts are not public – for obvious reasons. Turkey, for instance, issues many notices but none feature online. The fact that the UK has not arrested the person also does not mean there is no alert: police may know of the alert and decline to arrest on it, knowing extradition (e.g. to Iran) to be nigh-impossible, while SSHD caseworkers may not have access to it or might (conveniently) fail to notice it. UK authorities will not regard themselves as controllers of data which lies on INTERPOL’s own database in France, so subject access requests in this country may not assist.

The best option is a panel called the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF), which receives requests from individuals wishing to find out if there is any information on INTERPOL’s files concerning them (“access requests”). Under new rules effective from March 2017, the CCF must decide on access requests within 4 months, so it may be possible to get an answer before an asylum appeal is heard by the First-tier Tribunal. Disclosure is not guaranteed (the issuing country’s police can object on certain grounds, and a “neither confirm nor deny” type answer is a possibility), but if forthcoming should include basic details of the arrest warrant, the wording of the charge and potentially a copy of the warrant. Depending on the content – one has to bear in mind the possibility of exclusion from refugee status of those alleged to have committed serious offences – this could assist with the appeal.

INTERPOL alert = a problem for the wanted person

Any person who knows their home country has obtained an INTERPOL alert against them will likely want it deleted as it will create a risk of arrest when they travel. Some (in particular those recognised as Convention refugees) may, in reality, be safe from extradition from anywhere in Europe, but few will fancy risking arrest and at extradition proceedings in another country just to prove the point.

Challenging INTERPOL alerts

The CCF also hears “deletion requests”, in which it will consider deleting an INTERPOL alert which, for instance, is based on a politically-motivated prosecution. These proceedings have been severely criticised (including by me) for basic failings like the lack of cross-disclosure of arguments and evidence put forward by the country seeking to maintain the notice. But following recent reforms, there are signs that they are becoming a more effective avenue of recourse (for details, see the article above). A policy adopted in 2015 provides special protection for Convention refugees, and works in practice.

Practical points to bear in mind

The CCF is based in Lyon and sits outside the UK (or any other national) legal system. Accordingly, there is no legal aid available for any of this work. Supporting documents may need translating, at the applicant’s cost. But some of the applications discussed above can be relatively simple, e.g. two to three-page letters, and thus affordable to more people than is often thought.

Clients will have questions. Will their location become known to the home country if they make the application? If they have acquired a new identity or citizenship, are there risks in disclosing proof of identify to the CCF (a requirement)? And of course, some cases – e.g. those where the person is not (or not yet) formally recognised as a refugee – will require more substantial applications. New “case-law” recently released by the CCF will need particularly careful handling in deletion requests.

Public resources cover some of this, e.g. this chapter of mine on INTERPOL alerts in the European Criminal Bar Association (ECBA) extradition defence guide and the materials made available by Fair Trials (e.g. this note of advice). Or, of course, advice can be sought from counsel with experience of the system. It is worth utilising these options and making the CCF part of the asylum toolbox.

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Alex Tinsley

Alex Tinsley is a barrister at Church Court Chambers, practising in criminal, asylum and extradition law. He was formerly Head of EU Office at Fair Trials. He is a member of the Human Rights Committee of the European Criminal Bar Association (ECBA); a co-author of the ECBA Handbook “How to Defend a European Arrest Warrant case”; and a member of the editorial board of the New Journal of European Criminal Law. He was the 2011 Sir Peter Bristow Scholar at the Court of Justice of the EU. This post is written in a personal capacity.