UNHCR distributes pioneering smart ID cards to refugees in India

Making a Difference, 17 August 2011

© UNHCR/N.Bose
Sisters Ramnish and Jay, with their mother, proudly display their new smart ID cards.

NEW DELHI, India, August 15 (UNHCR) Gurbachan can boast that at just 13 years of age she has become a pathfinder. The Afghan teenager recently became one of the first refugees to receive an ID smart card developed for UNHCR. "I am so happy," she said after picking up her card in New Delhi.

UNHCR started issuing the new cards in July in the Indian capital and has to date handed out about 1,500, mainly to refugees and asylum-seekers from Afghanistan and Myanmar. It expects to issue about 18,000 by the end of the year to people aged 12 upwards.

The cards include a picture of the holder as well as a smart chip, which contains encrypted information, such as biographical data, address and date of registration with UNHCR. The cards are more durable than the earlier documentation and have a uniform design. They are also more difficult to copy or manipulate, making them safer and more reliable.

With the new cards, refugees are less likely to be arrested or face harassment from officials, making them a valuable protection tool. For some refugees, the cards are their only proof of identity. The cards are also expected to help against fraud and to maximize the integrity of UNHCR documentation.

"This is good. It is small and I can carry it easily in my wallet," said 25-year-old Afghan refugee Ahmed, holding his new card. He added that it was an improvement on the laminated certificates that have been handed out to date.

Jay went to the UNHCR registration centre in West Delhi with her sister, Ramnish, to pick up their cards. "The banks always ask for proof of identity. I hope this will help," said the delighted 21-year-old from Afghanistan. The cards will also be helpful when people are looking for employment or accommodation to rent.

Some people at the reception centre said they had been initially hesitant to hand over their laminated certificates, but changed their minds as word spread about the smart cards. Staff from UNHCR and the Socio Legal Information Centre handed out the cards, explained their use and answered queries.

"UNHCR tries to create a better and safer environment for refugees and asylum-seekers," noted Montserrat Feixas Vihe, UNHCR's chief of mission in New Delhi.

"We hope that the introduction of smart cards in India makes a real difference in their daily lives," "she added.

There are some 21,000 refugees and asylum-seekers of concern to UNHCR in India, mostly from Afghanistan, Myanmar and Somalia.

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