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Digital IDs Help Cameroon Refugees

Refugees from the Central African Republic get their digital IDs at the Gado-Badzere camp in Cameroon. June 26, 2022.

Cameroon's government and the U.N. refugee agency issues 6,000 refugees from Central African Republic with biometrics-based IDs to help them access basic services.

Digital IDs for Central Africans in the eastern Gado-Badzéré camp and the Mandjou area is now enabling them to access to education, jobs, healthcare, and travel around without fear of arrest.

Teckombi Yazembrou, 34, who works as a community organiser, helping aid agencies and local authorities assist nearly 30,0000 Central African refugees at the camp says that IDS is extremely helpful to her work.

"Having the ID card has really helped me. It isn't as good as Cameroonian nationality, but I'm still grateful.”

According to the U.N. refugee agency, violence in Central African Republic has forced more than 700,0000 people to leave the country since rebels ousted then-President François Bozizé in 2013. About half of these refugees found refuge in neighbouring Cameroon, mostly in eastern and northern regions.

Human rights groups say that refugees across the African continent often suffer discrimination and abuse without having legal IDs.

Mbav Tshilombo, UNHCR deputy representative in Cameroon says that Cameroon joins a handful of African nations including Senegal, Mali and Rwanda that have issued a limited number of refugee IDs.

"The card is a form of empowerment, so they can have access to jobs and financial institutions,"

According to the World Bank, more than 1 billion people 40% of whom live in Africa do not have official proof of identity, greatly limiting their ability to access basic public and financial services, according to the World Bank.

Tshilombon explains that the UNHCR issues its own ID cards in Cameroon to all refugees, but these are not widely recognised, and refugees generally cannot use them to apply for jobs, enrol in university or undertake other everyday tasks.

"We're working with the government for them to recognise the identity cards issued by UNHCR, so that those who haven't received the biometric cards won't have problems."

Although more governments across Africa are issuing digital IDs that are necessary for everything from opening a bank account to buying a mobile SIM card to getting a passport, the system leaves out poor and marginalised people.