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UN WFP trials iris-based biometrics payment system for food assistance program


The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has introduced an iris-based biometric payment system allowing Syrian refugees in Jordan to redeem their monthly food assistance from local shops using just a scan of their eye instead of a prepaid electronic card at checkout.

“This is a milestone in the evolution of our food assistance programme,” said WFP’s Jordan Country Director Mageed Yahia.

Initially, the biometric payment system will allow a select group of Syrians living in refugee camps in Jordan to use their iris to verify their identity and purchase food. This makes the food assistance process more efficient, enhances accountability, and makes grocery shopping easier and more secure for refugees by eliminating the need to carry or distribute cash, vouchers, or credit cards.

“The fact that this is happening in Jordan makes it all the more exciting as we hope that it will further contribute to the country’s progress towards being a regional hub for technology,” Yahia said.

The technology works in tandem with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s biometric registration data of refugees and a variety of WFP’s partners in Jordan, including IrisGuard, the company that developed the iris-based payment platform; Jordan Ahli Bank; and their counterpart Middle East Payment Systems (MEPS).

Once the shopper has his or her iris image captured, the system confirms the identity of the refugee seeking food assistance using the UNHCR’s registration database. Upon verification, it determines the refugee’s remaining balance through Jordan Ahli Bank and MEPS and confirms the purchase and prints a receipt for the refugee.

WFP hopes to expand the use of this iris scan payment system for all Syrians living in refugee camps in Jordan this year.

Just last month, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Cairo Amman Bank (CAB) and IrisGuard introduced EyeCloud, a new project in Jordan that delivers financial assistance to refugees through banking and biometrics technology based exclusively on UNHCR biometric registration data.

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