JUBA, South Sudan (July 31) – This month UNHCR and South Sudan’s Commission for Refugee Affairs (CRA) jointly issued and distributed some 3,400 digital identity cards to refugees in Western Equatoria. This includes nationals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic who fled to South Sudan between 2008 and 2010 to escape attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army. But also some Sudanese refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
“Identity documents are essential for refugees”, says Isabelle Misic, UNHCR Assistant Representative on Protection in South Sudan. “Even in a place like South Sudan where the consequences of being undocumented are less drastic than in other countries, it is crucial that refugees are able to prove not only their identity but also that their presence in the country is lawful.” Identity cards are key in the protection of refugees. Foreseen in the 2012 South Sudanese Refugee Act, they enable refugees to freely move within the country and access services and assistance.
The distribution of ID cards followed a two-week biometric verification exercise whereby UNHCR collected up-to-date, complete and reliable data of refugees living in Makpandu and Ezo settlements as well as the rural areas of Maridi, Source Yubu, Tambura, Andari and Naandi. The results of this exercise show that the refugee population of Western Equatoria has slightly decreased from 10,707 to 8,921 individuals. “We registered the vast majority of these refugees in 2009”, says Misic. “After so many years, it is important that we have updated records on their family composition, births, deaths and marriages and we know the real needs of the sick, elderly and other vulnerable people.”
Biometric technology was used to verify and record bio-data of the refugee population into UNHCR registration database. “Refugees were interviewed, photographed and finger-printed before being issued an ID card”, says Misic adding that the use of biometrics facilitates the confirmation of refugees’ identity -even where they lack other documentation- and minimizes the instances of fraud. “If they lose their ID card, they can approach us to get a new one in no time”, she says.
Since the launch of biometric verification and documentation of refugees in June 2014, nearly 10,000 refugees received a digitized ID card. This exercise will continue in the coming months. The short-term plan, says Misic, “is to issue an ID card to all refugees living in camps and urban areas in Central and Western Equatoria.”
South Sudan, Africa’s youngest country, is currently host to more than 265,000 refugees.