UNHCR Deputy Highlights Digital Identity, Biometrics in Roosevelt Speech

UNHCR Deputy Highlights Digital Identity, Biometrics in Roosevelt Speech

A senior executive with the United Nations’ refugee agency has taken another high-profile opportunity to highlight the benefits of the biometric identification of displaced persons.

The executive in this case was Kelly T. Clements, the UNHCR’s Deputy High Commissioner. She was speaking at Roosevelt University’s Center for New Deal Studies for the prestigious annual Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Distinguished Lecture, and used the platform to draw attention to the rising tide of displacement around the world, and the importance of social, financial, and labour inclusion in aiding refugees. And a key concern across all of these areas is digital inclusion and digital identity.

“At the core of our digital strategy is digital identity, which we believe has the promise to deliver a fast-track to inclusion,” Clements explained. “Nearly one billion people worldwide are unable to prove who they are. That is one reason why the Sustainable Development Goals provide all people with a legal identity by 2030.”

And an important element of digital identity is biometric identification, with Clements highlighting the example of a refugee settlement in Jordan, where “refugees are able to authenticate their identity using biometric Iris scans at enabled ATMs before receiving digitally distributed cash assistance.”

This is an approach that the UNHCR has been taking in partnership with government authorities around the world in recent years, with the refugee agency growing increasingly vocal about the benefits of biometric identification for displaced persons who often lack the kind of government-issued ID that is necessary to access critical services. This is why the UNHCR is looking to act as a “Trust Authority that will hopefully allow refugee digital identities to be recognized by governments, businesses and other relevant institutions,” Clements explained, adding that this approach can give refugees “greater control over their own lives.”

Coming just a couple of months after the UNHCR announced it was looking for expert ‘Digital Identity Consultants’ to help support large-scale refugee identity projects including biometric approaches, Clements’ comments offer the latest indication of the refugee agency’s intensifying interest in developing such solutions for displaced people.