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How One Country is Addressing the Refugee Identity Challenge


Claiming his identification papers were lost during the journey, a refugee requests asylum from a German border agent upon entering the country. Even with identification credentials in hand, there’s still a risk that the documents may have been altered or stolen.

So how do you maintain a welcoming culture and separate those who legitimately require assistance from those seeking to do harm?

Known for Willkommenskultur, their welcoming culture, Germany struggles with the delicate balance of securing borders and protecting citizens, while allowing reasonable movement of people. With plans to accept 1.3 million refugees for humanitarian reasons, the flow of those seeking asylum has been overwhelming. In December 2015, over 1 million asylum seeker claims were filed across Europe with Germany receiving the most migrants.

Europe’s Refugee Identity Challenge

A large influx of refugees coupled with terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels has heightened the need of European Union member states to positively identify those crossing borders. A commonly provided form of identification is a paper document, which can be easily altered. Checking these is often slow and can be prone to human error. Facing these challenges, European nations are moving toward technology that delivers identity assurance – biometrics.

Germany: Security and Efficiency through Biometrics

Germany currently uses Crossmatch’s digital fingerprint capture technology to enroll refugees at registration stations. Enrollment for every individual is completed by placing four fingers and thumb of each hand on a scanner. Additional biometrics, such as facial images, are captured, then combined with demographic data to create a compliant, electronic identification record. This record is stored in a central management database and the fingerprint is validated against government agency watch lists.

The Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge (BAMF), the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, has recently purchased over 1,000 Crossmatch Guardian® fingerprint scanners for use at more than 36 registration stations. When a refugee or migrant crosses the German border, their fingerprints are checked against the German Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and European Dactyloscopy (EURODAC) databases. Asylum seekers then continue to be processed via BAMF registration offices, where they will now enroll biometrically into the German EASY system – to verify identity, improve control and allow accurate disbursement of refugee benefits.

With more countries relying on biometrics, the chances of matching an existing identity is growing. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency, defines the biometric file formats and communication protocols that are used in passports. Today, ICAO-compliant passports contain biometrics stored on an electronic chip. These images are captured at the time of application and linked to a valid government agency credential. Compared to paper travel documents, biometrics provides a faster and stronger level of identity management and tie the individual to the trusted credential.

Crossmatch is currently featured in the German publication, Homeland Security Magazine. Interested in reading it? Download it here.

Tom Grissinger brings more than 28 years of experience in the development and marketing of security, networking, and application infrastructure products. He has worked within the biometrics industry for over 13 years.
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