While the United Nations and partner nations are increasingly recognizing the advantages of biometric registration for refugees, a group of displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are refusing to comply with such efforts in a region on the border with Burundi.
As The Citizen reports, the group, which numbers a little over 2,000, is a Catholic sect that follows a leader called Zebiya, who claims to have received spiritual visions of the Virgin Mary. The group says it faced persecution in Burundi, and that Zeb led them across the border in 2015. Now, its members are refusing to comply with the requests of the United Nations and other NGO agencies to submit their fingerprint and iris biometrics to register their identities.
The United Nations’ refugee agency, the UNHCR, has been expanding its use of biometric registration in recent months as means of keeping track of refugee populations. For displaced persons, access to stable identity that is not dependent on physical documents can help to ensure access to government and NGO services, and thus is seen as increasingly vital to their security. Biometric registration is also thought to help authorities detect and track potential terrorist elements hiding with refugee populations, and to keep refugees out of their hands and those of human traffickers.
Speaking to Agence France-Presse, a spokesperson for the group said, “We refused this biometric registration because our faith forbids it.”
The Zebiya sect may harbor suspicion against government authorities after its alleged persectuion in Burundi, and after an incident in September in which 36 Burundian refugees were killed by Congolese soldiers during a protest, as The Citizen reports. Meanwhile, today the United Nations suffered one of the worst attacks against its personnel in recent history when a heavily armed group of Islamic extremists killed 14 peacekeepers and wounded over 50 in the DRC.
December 8, 2017 – by Alex Perala