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Ethiopia begins issuing refugees digital ID cards to facilitate service access

Ethiopia begins issuing refugees digital ID cards to facilitate service access

The distribution of digital ID cards to Ethiopian refugees and returnees, as part of a pilot with tripartite support, has begun in the country’s capital Addis Ababa.

The cards, which contain a unique identification number dubbed Fayda, are intended to enable this category of persons get access to importance social services, according to an announcement by the UN Refugees Agency (UNHCR).

The plan is to distribute digital IDs to 77,000 refugees living in the capital, before extending the distribution to about one million others mainly coming from neighbouring countries like Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. It was unveiled last year following the signing of an MoU by Ethiopia’s ID and refugee authorities and the UNHCR.

The move, facilitated by the Refugees and Returnees Service of the Ethiopian government in collaboration with the national ID program (NIDP) and the UNHCR, seeks to foster inclusion and ease access to vital public and private sector services. Some of those services include obtaining and registering a SIM card, accessing healthcare, education, and financial services.

The digital ID issuance to refugees is being implemented under the UNHCR’s PING PRIMES Interoperability Gateway project, the first to be rolled out in Africa, the announcement mentions. It is also part of a World Bank-supported project.

Commenting on the development, Teyiba Hassen, director general of Ethiopia’s Refugees and Returnees Service, said: “Issuing digital IDs to refugees is a huge step that demonstrates that the Ethiopian Government is committed to include refugees in its national systems. This initiative is in line with two of our bold commitments announced during the Global Refugee Forum in 2023, including refugees into national systems and enhancing access to documentation. These IDs will grant refugees access to government-directed services.”

Yodahe Zemichael, who heads NIDP, reiterated the importance of an ID, especially for socially vulnerable persons like refuges and returnees, noting that “it is a gateway to dignity, enabling access to essential services, legal recognition, and opportunities to be integrated into host communities.” He urged that there is need to “build systems that recognize everyone, ensuring that no one is left behind.”

Also applauding the news, Andrew Mbogori, UNHCR country representative in Ethiopia, said: “This is an exciting development and demonstrates how Ethiopia is bringing to life the Global Compact on Refugees, which aims to support long term solutions for refugees no matter where they are and UNHCR hopes this will be emulated by other countries across the continent.”

Including refugees into the national ID system is part of the Ethiopian government’s plans for an inclusive digital transformation drive. It hopes to include up to 814,000 of them in the national ID database, according to a pledge made at the 2023 Global Refugee Forum in Geneva.

Ethiopia’s digital ID rollout efforts are advancing with about four million IDs already issued, according to a country progress update given by the NIDP boss at the just-ended MOSIP Connect gathering which the country hosted.

Also, during one of the panel discussions during the MOSIP event, a UNICEF official explained how the Ethiopia digital ID project has helped them empower forcibly displaced persons in the Oromia region of the country.

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