About 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh will soon get credit card-sized plastic IDs that will help provide them another level of protection and preserve their right to voluntarily return to Myanmar in conducive conditions, according to the UN refugee agency.
As per the UN estimates, nearly 700,000 minority Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar's Rakhine State since August 25 last year when the army launched a military crackdown.
Myanmar does not recognise Rohingya as an ethnic group and insists that they are Bangladeshi migrants living illegally in the country.
The exercise, which began at the end of June, is expected to take up to six months to complete.
It "will help consolidate a unified database for the purposes of protection, identity management, documentation, provision of assistance, population statistics and ultimately solutions for an estimated 900,000 refugees who have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh in successive waves of forced displacement," Charlie Yaxley, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in Geneva.
Since August last year, more than 720,000 have fled in what was one of the world's largest and fastest growing refugee emergencies in decades.
"The verification will play a key role in establishing refugees' identities and their declared places of origin in Myanmar," Yaxley said.
"It will help preserve their right to voluntarily return home, if and when they decide that the conditions are right to do so," he said.
The exercise will also help boost accurate refugee data supporting of the government and humanitarian partners to better understand their specific needs; plan, target and deliver protection and assistance; and avoid duplicating services.
"Biometric data, including iris scans and fingerprints as well as photographs, are used in the exercise to confirm individual identities for all refugees over the age of 12," Yaxley said.
The credit card-sized plastic IDs, issued jointly by the Bangladesh Government and the UNHCR, contain a number of anti-fraud features.
Since the start of the exercise on June 21, some 4,200 refugees have been verified. Despite heavy monsoon rains in recent days, most refugees attended their verification appointments, aware of the significance of having an identity card.
In addition to providing laptops, servers, wireless routers, biometric hardware and printing equipment, the UNHCR is also making available a special biometric registration software. -- PTI