Access Control

UNHCR moving biometrics to contactless iris-only in some countries after successful testing

UNHCR, the UN’s Refugee Agency, has piloted contactless iris biometrics in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Zambia and Malawi, according to a newly-published report.

The new “UNHCR Cash Assistance and COVID-19: Emerging Field Practices” describes the use of the BIMS iris and fingerprint scanner for registration and to provide authentication for cash and in-kind assistance. The BIMS system has been used by UNHCR to issue biometrics-backed identities to 80 percent of registered refugees by 2019.

In Bangladesh, a system utilizing iris recognition without fingerprint biometrics for registration and assistance management has been successfully tested, the agency says. Malawi has now agreed to approve the use of UNHCR’s new iris-only option.

The benefit of the new approach is a reduction of the risk of COVID-19 transmission with only small modifications to the scanners UNHCR already has, which can be reversed at any time to change to the alternative configuration. External lighting could make iris capture more difficult however, the report says.

The report also details the agency’s collaboration with the Basic Needs Working Group (BNWG), a coalition of more than 30 organizations providing assistance to refugees in Jordan, as well as efforts to deal with changing conditions and limit the spread of the virus in Rwanda, Iran, Morocco, Greece, Costa Rica, and Burundi.

UNHCR is in the process of hiring a new Associate Registration and Identity Management Officer (ARIMO) to support the biometric PRIMES digital identity system.

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