“…the assessment puts some hard numbers behind biometric ID programs that the UNHCR has championed through specific examples like Bangladesh’s settlements for Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.”
The United Nations’ refugee agency has ambitious goals with respect to its use of biometrics for refugee identification, and is solidly on track to meeting them, reveals an internal update from a recent UNHCR Standing Committee meeting.
The report assesses progress across a wide range of fronts, checking in on how the refugee agency is doing with respect to previously stated goals in areas like transparency, funding for national responders, collaboration with humanitarian agencies, and so on. Biometrics fall under the scope of the UNHCR’s efforts to ‘reduce duplication and management costs with periodic functional reviews’, and the assessment puts some hard numbers behind biometric ID programs that the UNHCR has championed through specific examples like Bangladesh’s settlements for Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
“The use of biometrics in refugee registration continued to be expanded during 2018 with an additional 2.4 million refugee registrations using biometrics,” the report reveals. It goes on to state that biometric registration systems have now been deployed in 62 country operations, up from 52 in 2017; and that the effort is “on track to meet its target of 75 operations by 2020.”
“As a result of these efforts, 8 in 10 UNHCR registered refugees over age five now have a biometric identity,” the report says.
This is real progress, from the UNHCR’s perspective. Displaced people often lack the kind of official identity documentation needed to access critical government services, and this lack of ID can also make it hard to track and manage refugee populations. Biometric identification offers a ready solution for these issues, and the UNHCR has argued that it’s an important tool for building the foundation of resettlement.
The UNHCR’s report also says that the agency has “expanded the use of biometrics at food distribution sites to ensure that rightful beneficiaries have equitable access to assistance”, an effort that has brought the added benefit of reducing wait times.
While there are some concerns about the sharing of refugees’ biometric data with the UNHCR’s government partners, the United Nations agency is clearly enthusiastic about its biometric identification program, and is well on its way in efforts to expand it further.
October 4, 2019 – by Alex Perala