Market Trends

Refugee Identity: Making a Difference Through Biometrics


It’s worth reflecting on the role biometrics can play in improving the lives of displaced people around the world. In the chaotic and uncertain circumstances of a refugee crisis, biometric systems create a baseline of order and accountability which benefit both refugees and the organizations who serve them.

“One in every 122 human beings today is either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum.”

— Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General

A Constantly Changing Landscape

The numbers are staggering and the stakes are high. Without a reliable way to account for who’s who in a flow of refugees, host countries and international organizations can quickly lose control of the situation. Infiltrators can sow further instability. Delivery of services can become duplicative, ineffective or corrupt.

The demographics of refugee populations are constantly changing, making situational awareness a difficult task. Building a population register is often the first step towards establishing stability and accountability in a refugee setting. Once authorities get a handle on how many people they are dealing with, they can start to police refugee populations more effectively, plan for delivery of services, manage the social needs of the population and issue targeted appeals for international assistance.

Unfortunately, few refugees have the documentation or records which connect them to a system of identity. Even the physical documents which a minority of refugees possess upon arrival are often prone to fraud or impossible to verify. In most cases, the identity systems of refugee camps are built from scratch, creating a new history and set of documents which serve the residents as long as their situation endures.

Refugee Identity Management

Biometrics are emerging as the new standard in identity management for refugees. Pioneered by the United Nations, biometrics have quickly proven their value for establishing and maintaining the population rolls which are the bedrock of refugee security and efficient delivery of services. The digital enrollment and verification of biometrics, such as fingerprints, irises and faces, offer security officials the ability to efficiently and effectively accomplish their goals.

Refugee camps often represent a complicated mix of interests. Host nation authorities, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and the refugees themselves all have different goals and motivations, all of which tend to converge around the issue of identity. By establishing a tangible and reliable system for identity management, biometric applications satisfy the overlapping needs of all the refugee camp constituencies.

Host nation authorities
are empowered with the situational awareness they need to provide adequate security and protection to refugee populations while minimizing the risk of instability. By establishing a definitive knowledge of who is who within a refugee camp, authorities can ensure that order is maintained and services delivered appropriately.

International organizations can ensure that the resources they invest in a refugee camp are being put to use in the most effective and efficient manner. By ensuring that only eligible refugees receive benefits, biometrics allow international organizations to monitor and evaluate their programs with definitive, real-time data.

Non-governmental organizations can demonstrate to their donors and the general public that their programs are having a concrete impact. By definitively establishing eligibility for aid, NGOs can be assured that it is reaching the refugees who actually need it.

The refugees themselves receive the strongest benefit of all, namely the security, resources and meaningful services which they lacked in their country of origin. After fleeing from the trauma of war, famine and natural disasters, refugees need the stability of a system which delivers their basic needs efficiently. Biometrics eliminate the corruption, instability and uncertainty which is unfortunately a hallmark of refugee camps around the world. With biometrics, refugees reliably receive the care and services they deserve.

To learn more about the use of biometrics in refugee camp operations, download our whitepaper.

Ben Ball is the Government Market Director at Crossmatch, where he oversees market intelligence and strategic outreach to government customers around the world. A ten year veteran of the Federal government, Ben was a Foreign Service Officer and worked in the Department of Homeland Security.
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