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United Nations using biometrics to identify refugees in Senegal


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in partnership with the Senegalese government, recently launched a campaign to provide digitized, biometric ID cards to some 19,000 refugees. Approximately 14,000 refugees are from Mauritania, which is experiencing a long-standing border dispute with Senegal that has resulted in ethnic violence.

Since April 1989, about 60,000 Mauritanians have fled to Senegal and Mali. UNHCR provided assistance to the Mauritanian refugees in northern Senegal until 1995 and facilitated the reintegration of 35,000 refugees who decided on their own accord to return to Mauritania between 1996 and 1998.

More than 24,000 Mauritanians were repatriated from Senegal under a program launched in 2008 and completed in March this year.

The biometric ID cards supplied by the UN’s refugee agency include a picture of the holder as well as fingerprints and biographical data. They are aimed at easing local integration and they guarantee the holder the same rights as Senegalese citizens, including the right to residence in the country and to travel to member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The card has been distributed to all refugees aged five years or above, but does not grant the right to vote. The identification cards are important due to high instability in region emanating from the terrorist threat emerging in Mali from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and its splinter group, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, which are both using Northern Mali as an operating base.

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