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Namibia begins issuance of much-anticipated biometric ID cards to refugees

Namibia begins issuance of much-anticipated biometric ID cards to refugees

It looked like a stalled project for many years, but it’s now reality. The issuance of biometric ID cards for refugees in Namibia has effectively started, according to local media reports.

The deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety and Security, Lucia Witbooi, announced the commencement of the process during a ceremony on June 20 to mark the 2024 edition of World Refugee Day, writes Namibia Economist.

Christened “Guest of Africa Identity Cards,” the biometric ID will be issued to facilitate access to vital services for thousands of forcibly displaced persons living within the country’s territorial borders. There are said to be 6,351 refugees and asylum seekers in Namibia and they come from countries including Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Witbooi also used her address during the ceremony to reiterate the country’s commitment to the wellbeing of refugees, saying the official identification will enhance their feeling of dignity and belonging to the society in which they live. She acknowledged the collaboration they enjoy from the UN Refugees Agency which is assisting in providing vital supplies such as drugs, food and personal effects to the refugees.

The issuance of the cards means that going forward, the process of issuing travel documents to refugees as proof of legal ID to access services, will be terminated.

By this move to issue refugee ID cards, Namibia is following in the footsteps of many other African countries which are working to include refugees, asylum seekers and other forcibly displaced persons into their legal and digital ID systems.

Among these countries are Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Cameroon. Ethiopia started issuing digital ID to refugees in March under a program supported by the World Bank. The country aims to issue up to 77,000 cards to refugees in the capital, Eddis Ababa and its environs.

In Burkina Faso, Japan recently offered the country some help to support a government program that aims to biometrically enroll all refugees in the country and issue them ID cards.

Cameroon, for its part, issued over 6,000 biometric ID cards to refugees in a pilot supported by the UNHCR in 2022, and the country is also engaged in a legislative move that highlights the government’s willingness to address the problem of statelessness which is common with forcibly displaced people.

In the same light, there was unison of thoughts and a pledge during the 2024 ID4Africa AGM by African governments to foster legal and digital ID programs for refugees on the continent.

Meanwhile, still in Namibia, the UNICEF country representative, Samuel Kweku Ocran, recently met with the Executive Director of the Ministry of Home Affairs to discuss collaboration on providing legal identity documents such as birth certificates to children. This comes as the country is looking to further development its DPI ecosystem and facilitate service delivery through it.

Currently, the Ministry of Home Affairs is using a traditional festival in the Omusati Region of the country to drive registration for national identity documents. The campaign which started on June 21 will run till July 2, the ministry announced on its Facebook page.

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