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UNHCR works toward self-managed refugee identity with biometrics to improve settlement outcomes

UNHCR works toward self-managed refugee identity with biometrics to improve settlement outcomes

The UNHCR has published a lecture on refugee inclusion and the future of humanitarian response at Roosevelt University, sharing insights on the agency’s views on the role of biometrics and digital identity in empowering refugees, and ultimately enabling their eventual resettlement.

Deputy High Commissioner Kelly T. Clements delivered the lecture at the Center for New Deal Studies, explaining the need for the agency to shift its historical emphasis on engagement at the national level to an approach that also takes in local communities and authorities.

Rising numbers of global refugees are fueled by conflict-driven emergencies symptomatic of geopolitical issues, climate and environmentally-driven displacement, and governance-driven crisis, Clements says. These numbers cannot be accommodated by old methods, as the gap between new refugees and settlements increases, and UNHCR is responding by shifting some aspects of its approach.

Part of the new way, according to Clements, involves UNHCR in the role of “convener” between refugees, investors, and financial service providers, to help refugees achieve social inclusion through work and financial inclusion. This approach is meant to establish relations that continue beyond the scope of the refugee agency. To do so, the UNHCR engages with financial service providers to raise awareness of what they can do, and then organizes interviews between the parties to explain proposed businesses and loan terms.

“The third step is pursuit of a partnership agreements with interested financial service providers which involves UNHCR sharing basic contact information to facilitate direct follow-up with refugees,” Clements says. “Once the information sharing and logistical support are provided, we step back and let the refugees work directly with financial service providers, while maintaining a degree of monitoring and oversight.”

At the core of this strategy is digital identity, which UNHCR believes can fast-track inclusion efforts. Clements refers to the iris biometric system backing refugee cash disbursements and payment in Jordan, and notes that the agency attempts to ensure its Population Registration System is interoperable with the systems used by host States.

UNHCR is working on self-managed digital identity that empowers refugees with control over their identity information, and also on strengthening the claims of refugees “who do not have access to government-endorsed identities” by appeal to Trust Authorities.

“(I)t is our view this duality of allowing people to have agency over their own identity and UNHCR strengthening identity claims by acting as a Trust Authority that will hopefully allow refugee digital identities to be recognised by governments, businesses and other relevant institutions, and refugees with greater control over their own lives,” Clements explains. “All while ensuring that data protection safeguards are built in line with international standards.”

Clements closes by comparing the world’s current refugee crisis to the opportunity for the New Deal created by the challenge of the Great Depression.

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