November 5, 2015 -
Andrew Harper of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that the iris recognition technology has significantly improved the U.N.’s efforts in distributing $120 million in aid to nearly two million refugees.
“Refugees don’t have to come to us, they can just go to a bank fitted with iris scanning, so we’ve not had to deploy any staff for procurement, transportation or warehousing,” said Harper. “We are able to give refugees the money at the time of their choosing and they can use it for the reasons they believe they are most important. It reinforces the dignity of the refugee, and human dignity is the basis of almost everything we do. We have more money to help people that are most in need.”
The UNHCR decided to deploy IrisGuard portable iris-scanners after seeing how the technology was being successfully used in banks, ATMs and airports across the Middle East.
Banks and government agencies first conducted an initial vetting process of each individual’s documentation, which included the scanning of his or her iris using the device.
Since the pilot launched in 2013, Harper estimates the overhead for the refugee program has decreased from nearly 20 percent to approximately 2 percent.
“Your identity is really important. … If you know who you’re dealing with, you can provide so many services,” said Joe O’Carroll, senior vice president of IrisGuard. “A camera could be in a kiosk in the grocery store to renew your passport, deliver pensions and social services like [food stamps].”
The iris recognition readers have helped integrate more than 80 percent of refugees residing outside of camps into the existing banking system, as well as helped the U.N. combat key issues like fraud, cybersecurity, privacy and family services, Harper said.
The U.N. has seen several benefits of the technology including its ability to follow migrants from one camp to another, ensuring that members of extremist groups are unable to misrepresent themselves, and preventing cards containing aid money from being stolen and resold.
After the U.N. began implementing iris scanning for Iraqi refugees, the number of refugees asking for aid dropped by 30 percent in this region. Harper attributes this sharp decline to fraud reduction.
“What can happen if you use vouchers or PIN numbers or ATM cards, you can have somebody to go back to Syria and sell the PIN code and sell it for a proportion of its value,” Harper said. “That has significant consequences: It means we are paying people who don’t deserve it when we could use it for someone else.”
Previously reported, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and South Sudan’s Commission for Refugee Affairs (CRA) have jointly issued and distributed approximately 3,400 biometric identity cards to refugees in Western Equatoria last month alone.