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Refugee status gets an upgrade

Namibia launched a campaign to register refugees this week
(Brigitte Weidlich/IRIN)

The several thousand refugees in Namibia's Osire settlement camp will soon have identity cards as part of a global campaign by the United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR, to better protect its beneficiaries.

Registration started this week at Osire, about 300 km northeast of the capital, Windhoek, where 6,500 refugees live, the majority from Angola. Namibia is the first country in the region to initiate the process.

"Refugees often have inadequate means of identification - sometimes even scraps of paper, because it does not look official, authorities don't recognise them," said Jack Redden, UNHCR's regional spokesman explaining the global campaign. "These new identity cards will gives them real status."

The Namibian government will issue ID cards similar to those issued to their own citizens. Since governments are paying for the new cards, the level of sophistication will vary according to countries' affordability, explained Redden.

Identity cards "will be issued to each individual refugee from the age of six years onwards", explained Andrew Hopkins, UNHCR senior refugee registration officer for southern Africa. "Fingerprints will be taken from each person aged 16 and older."

The new identity cards will also enable refugees and asylum seekers to access bank remittances sent by their relatives from other countries, he added. "Some refugees are studying in the capital Windhoek and an ID card helps them to register at colleges and university more easily".

Isabelle Somp, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo and vice-president of the Osire refugee committee was elated. "The cards will give us an individual status separately from our husbands and each child will also have its own card", she told IRIN.

Of the 6,500 refugees and asylum seekers at Osire, 5,000 are from Angola, approximately 1,500 from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 500 from Rwanda and about 200 hail from Burundi, according to camp officials.

"The purpose of the registration is to collect and verify information about all the refugees and asylum seekers and their families," Home Affairs Minister Rosalia Nghidinwa said at the campaign's launch in Osire on Monday. "Registration is voluntary, but we urge you to undergo the process".

An updated and accurate database of all refugees would help the Namibian government and support agencies to better budget and plan assistance, noted Nghidinwa.

"Your cards and new documents will also protect you from being confused with illegal immigrants and to get assistance where needed and can help missing persons and separated family members to be found and united," Nghidinwa added.

UNHCR representative in Namibia Joyce Mends-Cole said the identity cards should be ready by June. "World Refugee Day is on 20 June and we hope to hand them out to refugees by then".

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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