The United Nations has begun to use biometric technology to better obtain and manage data on refugees, according to a SciDev.Net article by Aamna Mohdin. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) is using iris scans, photographs, and fingerprints to collect this data.
Traditionally, the agency has relied on surveys and estimates from NGOs and governments to guess at refugee numbers, but it’s a massive task: the agency believes that in the first half of 2014, 5.5 million individuals were displaced by conflict. But early in that year, the UNHCR started collecting biometric data at the Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi, believing it to be a more reliable means of identifying individuals who often don’t have their own identification documents.
While such methods can’t be used as effectively outside of refugee camps, they do provide a valuable contribution to the overall effort, and their data will perhaps be more reliable than that collected elsewhere. Indeed, governments around the world are starting to employ biometric identification methods for their own citizens, and while such measures may appear to be used for more nefarious ends under some regimes, in countries like India, where a national biometric registry is linked to identity cards, they are helping to make government more accessible for all citizens. In the hands of the UN’s refugee agency, the tools will almost certainly be used for good, helping the agency to more effectively do its vital work.
January 28, 2015 – by Alex Perala