UNHCR issues biometric ID cards to 3,400 refugees in South Sudan

August 3, 2015 - 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and South Sudan’s Commission for Refugee Affairs (CRA) announced they have jointly issued and distributed approximately 3,400 biometric identity cards to refugees in Western Equatoria last month alone, according to a report by Gurtong.

The 3,400 refugees include nationals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic who fled to South Sudan between 2008 and 2010 to evade attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army, as well as some Sudanese refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, said UNHCR.

“Identity documents are essential for refugees,” said Isabelle Misic, UNHCR assistant representative on protection in South Sudan. “Even in a place like South Sudan where the consequences of being undocumented are less drastic than in other countries, it is crucial that refugees are able to prove not only their identity but also that their presence in the country is lawful.

“Identity cards are the key in the protection of refugees. Foreseen in the 2012 South Sudanese Refugee Act, they enable refugees to freely move within the country and access services and assistance.”

Prior to distributing the ID cards, the UNHCR conducted a two-week biometric verification exercise in which the agency collected complete and reliable data of refugees living in Makpandu and Ezo settlements, as well as the rural areas of Maridi, Source Yubu, Tambura, Andari and Naandi.

The UNHCR reported the results of the exercise, which showed that the refugee population of Western Equatoria has decreased from 10,707 to 8,921 individuals.

The agency registered most of the refugees back in 2009, but regularly updates records to address their family composition, births, deaths and marriages and ensure they are aware of any needs of the sick, elderly and other vulnerable people.

“Biometric technology was used to verify and record bio-data of the refugee population into UNHCR registration database,” said Misic. “Refugees were interviewed, photographed and finger-printed before being issued an ID card. The use of biometrics facilitates the confirmation of refugees’ identity even where they lack other documentation and minimizes the instances of fraud. If they lose their ID card, they can approach us to get a new one in no time.”

Since the agency began biometric verifying and documenting of refugees in June 2014, the agency has issued a digitized ID card to almost 10,000 refugees.

The biometric registration exercise will continue in the coming months, with the short-term goal of issuing an ID card to all refugees residing in camps and urban areas in Central and Western Equatoria.

According to the “Refugees Overview” section of its website, the UNHCR states that South Sudan currently has more than 265,000 refugees.

Previously reported, the UNHCR is using digital fingerprinting to strengthen refugee protection in South Sudan, as well as help the country’s most vulnerable citizens.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.