UNHCR commends Pakistan for completing Afghan refugee ID campaign
© WikiMedia (US Department of State)
UNHCR commends Pakistan for completing Afghan refugee ID campaign

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Tuesday commended Pakistan for successfully completing its national campaign to issue about 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees with smart identity cards after verifying and updating their data.

UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch praised Pakistan at a virtual press briefing in the Palais des Nations in Geneva. The national campaign, which began in April 2021, is officially known as the Documentation Renewal and Information Verification Exercise (DRIVE). Since 2019, DRIVE has sought “to assist and protect Afghan refugees, including through the support platform for the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR).”

Through DRIVE, Pakistan has issued over 700,000 smart cards to date, and the remaining cards will be issued early this year. The identity cards allow Pakistan officials to authenticate nationals’ identities through biometric data. They also facilitate access to health, educational facilities and banking services. The cards will expire in mid-2023.

DRIVE is Pakistan’s first large-scale refugee verification in the recent decade. To achieve the campaign’s goals, Pakistan opened over 40 verification sites and provided mobile vans for the registration of Afghan refugees. According to UNHCR, these registration sites complied with COVID-19 safety measures. Moving forward Pakistan will collect refugees’ socioeconomic data to identify specific Afghan refugee needs or vulnerabilities.

Mauritius also attempted to issue smart identity cards to its citizens last year by amending the National Identity Card Act of 1985. That attempt failed, however, when the UN Human Rights Committee invalidated the identity cards, finding that cards containing cardholders’ biometric information violated the privacy rights of Mauritian citizens. There, the Committee held that guarantees against the risk of abuse and arbitrariness from potential access to identity card data were insufficient.