Refugee Identity Crisis and the Role of Biometrics

The protracted Syrian civil war has caused one of the “biggest refugee and migration crises since World War II” as said by U.N. General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon. As a result, nearly 12 million Syrians, equivalent to half of the Syrian population, have fled their homes. European countries have wrestled with its immigration policies on whether to welcome in more migrants. Despite the humanitarian concern, there is fear that a massive influx of migrant refugees will pose a grave security and stability threat.

Biometrics to ease the refugee’s management and enhance the security of the border control system.

Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, home to over 120,000 Syrian refugees (Source:

The Paris terrorist attacks on Nov. 13 have made things more complicated. According to the media, one of the terrorists impersonated as a Syria refugee and entered Greece in October. From there, he moved to many countries and eventually made his way to Paris for the attacks. People not only in EU, US and Gulf but all over the globe are now living in doubt whether there are any IS forces hiding into the country and when the next terror attack would happen. The migrants have provoked an identity crisis in EU and other countries that requires unity of the nations.

Biometrics is the measurement of human characteristics such as: finger, face, iris, ear, etc. Since the old-fashioned authentication methods such as password or credentials become insecure and cumbersome, biometrics has risen to be the most secure one in identity management and access control. Regarding identity management, biometric recognition has been deployed in many countries for an effective and secured identity management. One of biggest national ID projects that we cannot pretermit is the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India). Its object is to collect fingerprint, iris data and photograph of 1.2 billion residents. Until now more than 920 million people has successfully enrolled. Another example is that UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has rolled out a significant project to register and verify the identities of displaced persons around the world by building a breakthrough Biometric Identity Management system (BIMS). As of today, 17,000 refugees in Malawi camp, over 120,000 refugees in Thailand camp and roughly 100,000 refugees to date in Chad have had their biometric identity registered. Identification of refugees becomes a necessary thing to grant access to financial and food subsidies. As most of them have lost their identity documents during the fleeing, giving them a new ID using biometric system is the safest and fastest way to secure their access. In a broader perspective, these refugees’ biometrics data can be shared between countries in order to keep track of refugees while they move across borders, thus keeping the safety and stability of host countries and others. Biometrics has proved as a digital innovation to improve people’s lives and make a significant social and economic change. Especially as the refugee identity crisis becomes a global issue, the role of biometrics is even more critical.

According to BiometricUpdates, the Malaysian and American governments have signed an agreement to share a database containing the biometric records of about 1.2 million people suspected of terrorism and other serious crimes. As another movement, UK Government has decided to work with UNHCR in order to implement biometric screening on any Syrian refugees that coming to the UK. Furthermore, recently in the U.N. Agenda 2030 document, the United Nations has set a goal that: “By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration.” In a new report issued in collaboration with Accenture, the World Bank is calling on governments to “work together to implement standardized, cost-effective identity management solutions.” The new biometric IDs are not just for refugees but will be for everyone in the world. Apparently, biometrics with its superior advantages can ease the refugee’s management by reducing the fraudulence in identity and enhancing the security of the border control system. We really hope for a world when U.N biometric for all humanity is in place and people’s identity will be protected and secured.