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More than half a million Rohingya refugees receive identity documents, most for the first time

Two Rohingya women in head scarves sit at a table getting identification documents from a man sitting across from them

A UNHCR team in Bangladesh register Rohingya refugees, providing many with identity documents for the first time. © UNHCR/Caroline Gluck

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

As of Wednesday, more than 500,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have been registered in a joint registration exercise by the Bangladesh authorities and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

For many of these refugees, it is the first time they have an identity card. The biometric, fraud-proof cards are being issued jointly by Bangladeshi authorities and UNHCR to all verified refugees over the age of 12.

This comprehensive registration being simultaneously carried out in all refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar – is meant to ensure the accuracy of data on refugees in Bangladesh, giving national authorities and humanitarian partners a better understanding of the population and their needs. Accurate data will help agencies in their programme planning and be able to target assistance where it is needed most, particularly for people with specific needs, such as women and children taking care of their families and people with disabilities.

Last week, using the biometric data collected during this registration exercise, UNHCR launched the Global Distribution Tool (GDT) initially in one of the refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar. Through verification of fingerprints or iris scans, this tool speeds up distributions, is fraud proof, and can be used by partners to ensure that there is no overlap in assistance, and to ensure that nobody is left out. It continues to be rolled out in more settlements in the coming weeks.

The new registration cards indicate that Myanmar is the country of origin, a critical element in establishing and safeguarding the right of Rohingya refugees to return to their homes in Myanmar, if and when they decide the time is right for them to do so.

An estimated 900,000 Rohingya refugees live in crowded settlements in Cox’s Bazar, with over 740,000 thought to have fled from Myanmar since August 2017.

The registration exercise, currently under way, began in June 2018. On average, some 5,000 refugees are being registered daily at seven different sites within the settlements. More than 550 local staff have been recruited with the goal of completing the registration process during the last quarter of 2019.

UNHCR’s Biometric Identity Management System (BIMS) captures biometric data, including fingerprints and iris scans, which secure each refugee’s unique identity as well as other important information such as family links.

Both UNHCR and the Bangladesh authorities meet regularly with the refugee community, including with elected community representatives, imams, elders and teachers, to explain the benefits of registration and respond to questions and concerns. Outreach teams composed of refugee volunteers also go into the community to explain the registration process and encourage people to register.

UNHCR is appealing to the international community to continue to support Rohingya refugees and Bangladesh. At the end of July, UNHCR and partners working on the joint refugee response in Bangladesh have received US$318 million, just over a third of the total US$920 million needed in 2019.

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Originally published by UNHCR on 09 August 2019