Over 250,000 Rohingya refugees get identity documents, for many a first
Over a quarter of a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have now been jointly registered and provided with identity cards by the Bangladesh authorities and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
Rohingya refugees sheltering in Bangladesh are stateless. Despite living in Myanmar for generations, the Rohingya lost their citizenship following a change in Myanmar laws in 1982. Today, more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees are in crowded settlements in Cox’s Bazar, 741,000 of these being people who have fled from Myanmar since August 2017.
The registration exercise, which began in June 2018, is about safeguarding the right of Rohingya refugees to be able to return home voluntarily to Myanmar in future. So far, the Government and UNHCR have registered 270,348 refugees (59,842 families) in the settlements in Cox’s Bazar district. Each day, over 4,000 refugees are registered at six different locations, where more than 450 staff are working long hours with the goal of completing the process by late 2019.
Comprehensive registration is important for improving the accuracy of data on refugees in Bangladesh. It provides national authorities and humanitarian organizations with a better understanding of the population and their needs. Data will facilitate the planning of programmes and the targeting of assistance to where it is needed most, particularly for people in acute need, such as women and children heading families and people with disabilities.
Included in refugee registration is basic biodata and other important information, including on family links. UNHCR uses a Biometric Identity Management System (BIMS) that captures unique data, including fingerprints and iris scans. At the end of the process, refugees receive an ID card that includes a photo and key information, such as name, date of birth and place of birth. The card also indicates Myanmar as the country of origin. All refugees over the age of 12 receive the card, and families also receive an attestation showing the details of all family members, including younger children.
Information on the document is in English and Bengali, to facilitate interactions with national authorities. UNHCR developed the documents in cooperation with the Bangladeshi government, and the ID cards and attestations carry both the government and UNHCR logos.
UNHCR and the Bangladeshi authorities meet regularly with members of the refugee community, including imams, elders, teachers and other leaders, to explain the benefits of registration and respond to questions and concerns. Outreach teams composed of refugee volunteers go into the community to talk about the registration process and encourage people to register.
Rohingya refugees are living in an environmentally fragile part of Bangladesh that is prone to natural disasters. With the cyclone season underway and the monsoon season approaching, registration will also help reunite families in case they get separated during storms.
A Joint Response Plan (JRP) launched in February 2019 seeks to raise US$920 million for humanitarian needs of Rohingya refugees and vulnerable Bangladeshi host communities in 2019. As of mid-May the JRP is just under 18 cent funded (US$165.2 million). This is deeply worrying given that we are approaching the second half of 2019. It is vital that humanitarian agencies receive early and flexible funding in order to continue delivering lifesaving assistance and to improve the living conditions for refugees and host communities in Bangladesh.
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