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Updated biometric ID cards going to 1.4M Afghan refugees living in Pakistan

UNHCR to verify up to 8,000 persons per day

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The United Nations and government of Pakistan plan to distribute 1.4 million replacement biometric ID cards for Afghan refugees living in the country, with the UN verifying 8,000 persons a day. The goal is to provide all of the refugees with reliable identification within a year.

According to online documents posted by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which is organizing the year-long effort, $6.96 million is needed to pull it off. However, other UNHCR documents indicate that only $6.13 million has been budgeted.

Pakistan has shouldered the burden of civilians fleeing Afghanistan since the ascendance of religious zealotry personified by the Taliban, beginning in 1996. Repatriation has been hampered by the long U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, uncertain political control there, economic ruin and, now, COVID-19.

Some portion of the 1.4 refugees (who have registered with the Pakistani government) have received public services including health care and education using now-expired IDs. The new cards are expected to help officials get a handle on distribution of services and to aid in voluntary resettlement in Afghanistan.

Last year, the UN spent about $4 million on software and smart card development in preparation for the 2021 campaign. Previous versions of identification cards — referred to as proof of registration, or PoR, documents — were distributed a decade ago, according to the world body.

Those cards expired in 2015, but the government has continued to accept them until a replacement was distributed.

It is unclear what biometric data, if any, was recorded in those cards. In fact, it is not clear what biometric data will be encoded in the new ones.

In the early 2000s, however, the UNHCR issued returning refugees documentation tied to iris scans to tens of thousands of Afghans.

The new cards will have the same features programmed into national IDs issued to Pakistanis. Like the older version, they will enable refugees to access services and open bank accounts. Updates, according to the UN, will make transactions involving the new ID faster and safer.

Pakistan’s government has issued biometric cards for public transit credit, and is using biometric authentication to disburse emergency social assistance payments.

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