This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, commends the Government of Pakistan for its country-wide campaign to verify and update the data of some 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees and to issue them with smart identity cards.
Following a short pilot, the campaign, supported by UNHCR, began on 15 April 2021 and ended on 31 December 2021. It was the first large-scale verification of refugees in Pakistan in the last 10 years.
According to early provisional results, the data of 1.25 million Afghan refugees was updated and expanded as a result of the campaign, officially known as the documentation renewal and information verification exercise (DRIVE). Among them were 200,000 children under the age of five who were registered by their refugee parents.
More than 700,000 new smart identity cards have also been issued to date. The remaining cards will be printed and distributed in early 2022.
These cards, which will be valid until 30 June 2023, contain biometric data and are technologically compatible with systems used in Pakistan to authenticate the identities of nationals.
The new smart identity cards are an essential protection tool for Afghan refugees and give them faster and safer access to health and education facilities and to banking services.
DRIVE also provided an opportunity for Afghan refugees to flag any specific protection needs or vulnerabilities. More detailed information about refugees’ socioeconomic data will allow for better tailored assistance in Pakistan and for support in case refugees decide to return home, when conditions allow.
Over 40 verification sites were operational across Pakistan during DRIVE, while mobile registration vans facilitated verifications for Afghan refugees living in remote areas. A mass information campaign was also carried out to explain to Afghan refugees about the purpose of the campaign and how to participate.
Strict measures were in place at all sites to mitigate COVID-19 risks through enhanced hygiene, physical distancing, and the scheduling of set numbers of appointments each day during the exercise.
DRIVE is part of a wider effort to assist and protect Afghan refugees, including through the support platform for the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR). The support platform was launched in 2019 to help refugee host countries while also sought to invest in former refugee return areas in Afghanistan.