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UNHCR gets digital ID boost from Estonia to improve service delivery for refugees

digital identity biometric registration

Refugees and forcibly displaced persons benefiting from services of the United National High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) are having a better experience accessing those services thanks to support from an Estonian expert who has been working to strengthen the digital ID ecosystem of the UN body, according to an article on its website.

Estonia, which is seen as a trailblazer on digital identity and digital government in the world, made a pledge during the Global Refugee Forum in 2019 to support efforts by the UNHCR to improve on its digital identity service efforts as the organization adapts its service delivery system to the realities brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

This adaptation saw the creation of a digital identity unit at the UNHCR with the aim of allowing displaced or stateless persons have increased access to a secure, trusted and strong digital identity which can give them the opportunity to improve their daily lives, the article mentions.

Making good on its pledge, Estonia provided the UNHCR with an expert, Rico-Christhopher Adigazalov, who joined the UNHCR’s Digital Identity Unit in February 2020 as an Estonian secondee and senior digital identity expert.

Adigazalov, the article mentions, has since been working to improve the body’s efforts of substituting face-to-face service delivery with digital options in a secure, seamless and trusted manner.

According to Nicholas Oakeshott, UNHCR’s senior registration and identity management officer working on this project, the UNHCR/Estonia cooperation touches four major areas which they include managing digital IDs so refugees can securely and reliably access services online; designing accessible and user-friendly e-governance services to make sure refugees facing various challenges and living in different countries and contexts are included; interoperability of UNHCR’s digital systems, ensuring that UNHCR’s systems and the systems of other humanitarian actors can work together more effectively, and Ensuring right to privacy and data protection online to guarantee that the sensitive data of forcibly displaced and stateless persons is secure.

“Having a trusted, robust and secure digital identity is a necessary enabler to access online digital services – whether that is UNHCR’s services, eGovernment or online banking,” says Oakeshott.

Alluding to the Estonian experience, Adizagalov states: “In Estonia, once refugees and asylum-seekers are enrolled in the national identification system, they have the option to apply for a digital ID which allows them to access different e-services. Refugees have equal access to e-services as citizens. This can really improve the quality of life.”

Emphasizing the import of such partnership, he adds: “Estonia is globally recognized for its success in e-governance but we are not experts in using technology to solve the humanitarian issues – for that, the leading organization is UNHCR, which provides the guidance and principles and has the forward-looking view of what could be done. This can be done best together.”

Apart from using digital ID to access UNHCR services, it can also allow them opportunities for self-reliance, financial inclusion and other avenues to better their lives, the UNHCR believes.

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