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UNHCR salutes African govts’ pledge to accelerate digital ID action for forcibly displaced

UNHCR salutes African govts’ pledge to accelerate digital ID action for forcibly displaced

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has lauded the willingness by some African governments to take stronger actions aimed at fostering digital identity inclusion for refugees, other forcibly displaced and stateless persons on the continent.

Representatives of a number of governments made their intentions known in this regard during a workshop on Day 4 of the ID4Africa 2024 annual general meeting which took place last week in Cape Town, South Africa.

In a statement, the UNHCR, which chaired the workshop, saluted the commitment from the African governments, and also expressed appreciation for the efforts already being made by some countries in integrating these categories of persons into their national identity systems.

Attendees of the workshop also included policymakers, development agencies, civil society leaders and industry experts.

In the course of the workshop, representatives from countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, and Zambia explained accomplished as well as ongoing initiatives in this vein, such as the putting in place of comprehensive legal frameworks, rollout of digital ID programs, conduct of national surveys on statelessness and measures being deployed to facilitate access to financial and social services.

The discussions also looked at the existing gaps and how they can be closed up through more strategic interventions. Those include the establishment of the right governance framework to enable the integration of non-citizens, ensuring that systems comply with international standards, and using learnings from a country like Ethiopia which has successfully integrated refugees into its national digital ID system, and in turn using those interventions to facilitate access to important services.

“Our participation in this event underscores our commitment to our Digital Transformation Strategy, which is the backbone of our identity initiatives,” said Chansa Kapaya, UNHCR’s director of the Regional Bureau for Southern Africa. “This strategy guides us in implementing systems that benefit all, particularly those facing forced displacement.”

During the exchange, speakers recognized the huge importance of digital identity and the role it can play in improving the livelihoods of forcibly displaced persons. They also explored how partnerships and innovation can drive social and financial inclusion.

Also commenting, the UNHCR Deputy Director for the Regional Bureau for Southern Africa, Angèle Djohossou, said allowing refugees access to legal and digital identity is extremely vital for ensuring the protection of their rights in host communities.

The UNHCR said its partnership with ID4Africa will continue in order “to promote collaboration and knowledge exchange among African states, with support from civil society and other actors,” with the goal of ensuring that “every forcibly displaced and stateless person acquires recognized legal identity by integrating them into national digital ID systems.”

The main objective of the workshop was to propose solutions on how the over 20 million estimated forcibly displaced persons in Africa can be brought into digital ID systems in order to promote inclusion and socio-economic integration. It was divided into three segments, focused on creating an enabling policy environment which favors inclusion of refugees and stateless persons, advancing practical solutions for access to digital ID for refugees, and empowering inclusion in national digital ID systems.

In February, the UNHCR also praised African leaders for their push towards eradicating statelessness following their adoption of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights Relating to the Specific Aspects of the Right to a Nationality and the Eradication of Statelessness in Africa.

Refugees in Ethiopia enjoy new life thanks to digital ID

Meanwhile, a UNHCR blog article chronicles how Ethiopia’s digital ID system is helping refugees enjoy access to healthcare, financial inclusion and other services that empower their life journey.

The article spotlights the experience of Ibtisam Khaled Al-Barti, a Yemeni refugee, who like many others, has been able to obtain formal business documentation after being issued a biometric ID card by the Ethiopian government. He says because he is now empowered through the ID, he does not “need to beg to eat.”

The move to include refugees in Ethiopia’s digital ID system is part of the Global Compact on Refugees framework, and also part of a pledge the country made during the 2023 Global Refugee Forum.

“The government remains committed to keeping its borders open and has established progressive policies for refugees. However, much more support is needed to ensure refugee inclusion and solutions in Ethiopia,” said Elizabeth Tan, UNHCR’s Director of International Protection.

Also, in Ethiopia, the World Food Program (WFP) said in March it was using a digital system to manage aid delivery to people facing harsh hunger in some parts of the country.

The digital reforms on the humanitarian assistance program were introduced after it was noticed that supplies were being diverted and were not reaching the intended beneficiaries, according to a WFP blog write-up. The system involves digital registration and verification of food aid beneficiaries.

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