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UNHCR’s biometrics solution helping Myanmar refugees in Thailand


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced it has successfully completed its roll-out of its biometrics identity management system (BIMS) to identify Myanmar refugees in Thailand’s nine border camps.

From January through May, UNHCR and the Royal Thai Government used the UNHCR’s new BIMS to verify and update the records of nearly 110,000 registered and unregistered refugees from Myanmar.

Thailand was selected as the first site of the global roll-out program. The Thailand camps had not undergone regular registration since it was discontinued a decade ago, bringing along an urgent need to update any data regarding family composition, births, deaths and marriages.

“The situation in Myanmar is changing and refugees are finding their own solutions outside the camps,” said Mireille Girard, UNHCR’s Representative in Thailand, noting that small numbers have started to return home on their own. “By understanding their family and individual situation in the camps – including those of the most vulnerable refugees – we can further improve our assessment of their situation before and after any movements. This will also enable us to target assistance and monitor more accurately.”

The biometric identification program was implemented in association with Ministry of Interior officials and supported by UNHCR’s NGO partners, and involved the close examination of current documents and physical verification of entire households.

The refugee leaders of each camp helped to mobilize the population and encourage refugees to participate, which eventually resulted in the most comprehensive protection and statistical review of the Myanmar refugee population in a decade.

In order for the UNHCR to accurately use the BIMS for the first time, the agency needed to collect each refugee’s fingerprints and iris scan and securely store the data in its online database, which can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

“Biometrics will help refugees in the future as it ensures that once they’ve been through the system and enrolled with their fingerprints and irises, we’ll always know who they are,” said Sam Jefferies, UNHCR’s associate biometrics deployment officer in Geneva. “If they lose their documentation, they can always come back to us.”

At the end of the rollout program, refugees each received a smart card containing their family’s bio-data and photographs, securely encrypted and retrievable with UNHCR card readers in any location, including remote places with no internet access.

Previously reported, UNHCR is working with Accenture to deliver a biometric technology system for registering and verifying the identities of displaced individuals around the world.

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