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UNHCR recommends the use of biometric identity cards to monitor refugees in Malaysia


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Malaysia has proposed the introduction of a biometric identity card to be issued to all refugees so that the government can monitor their whereabouts as they await resettlement, according to a report by The Malaysian Insider.

There were reportedly 153,004 refugees registered with the UNHCR as of May, with 93% of them originating from Myanmar.

Despite these figures, the UNHCR says there are potentially “tens of thousands” of undocumented refugees in the country, all of whom are susceptible to resorting to crime or being exploited by human traffickers.

UNHCR Representative in Malaysia Richard Towle said the agency was advocating the introduction of an identity card with advance biometric security features, to be issued to all refugees so that the government could keep tabs on them.

“We’ve already proposed this to the Malaysian government and the matter is currently under discussion,” said Richard Towle, UNHCR representative in Malaysia. “We would like to work closely with the government (where registration of refugees is concerned) because we think this way, we can combat crime and trafficking issues (involving refugees) more effectively.

“If we can produce an identity card with advance biometric features and if the government finds it suitable, then it will go a long way in combating exploitation and crime.”

The UNHCR currently issues a basic identity card to all refugees registered under the agency, which offers “high commercial value” by enabling refugees to get jobs in the informal sectors, but “no legal value” in Malaysia, said Towle.

By introducing biometric documentation, the government could help “legalize” the status of refugees in Malaysia which would benefit both the nation and the refugees, according to the UNHCR.

The agency says there are three main benefits of implementing biometric documentation: ensuring that refugees are able to find proper employment during the duration of their stay in Malaysia and ultimately become self-sufficient, enabling employers to choose the most skilled and well-qualified workers from among the refugees, and allowing the government to monitor the whereabouts of the refugees.

In response to the potential of any added financial burden placed on Malaysia if it introduced measures to legalize the status of refugees, Towle said that it would be a cost-neutral situation for the government as “all of the support rendered to refugees in this country is provided by UNHCR and via NGOs”.

The UNHCR also recently purchased a private healthcare insurance policy to ensure that refugees have access to affordable healthcare at private hospitals.

Previously reported, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is working with Accenture to deliver a biometric technology solution for registering and verifying the identities of displaced individuals around the world, providing refugees with the help they need.

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