UNHCR: Identity management system uses biometrics to better serve refugees

Accenture helps UNHCR deliver a biometric identity management system for registering and verifying the identities of displaced persons around the world.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is rolling out a breakthrough Biometric Identity Management system (BIMS) that rapidly registers, de-duplicates and verifies the identities of refugees, ensuring that the right people receive assistance where and when they need it.


UNHCR faced a key operational challenge: how to quickly and accurately identify a constantly changing population of forcibly displaced people in its camps worldwide, often near war-torn regions. The agency had experimented with different biometric tools. To better manage its global refugee population, UNHCR recognized that it needed a standardized, integrated solution with a centralized data base for identity management. The tool would enable the agency’s 7600 employees to improve protection and support for an estimated 33.9 million refugees in 125 countries as they move across borders.

The new system had to meet three objectives: rapidly determine what benefits and services a person needs; secure identities; and improve documentation to help longtime refugees find permanent solutions.

UNHCR selected Accenture in 2013 to design and build a breakthrough biometrics system. It turned to Accenture because of its vendor-independent solution—the Unique Identity Service Platform (UISP), which creates a single identity for each individual in a population. Accenture also offered experienced biometric teams and a proven record for global biometrics implementations that deliver public service for the future.


Collaborating closely with UNHCR, in just six weeks Accenture configured a pilot Biometric Identity Management System using its UISP software, tailored to the agency’s unique needs. The technology captures and stores fingerprints, iris data and facial images of individuals, providing undocumented refugees with their only personal identity record. Because it uses several biometric modalities, BIMS is more inclusive and accurate in matching an identity and de-duplicating multiple enrollment attempts.

To meet UNHCR needs, the biometrics system had to be durable (able to withstand rugged field conditions such as extreme heat, dust and humidity), always on (capable of working continuously working through power and connectivity outages), and user friendly since operators in refugee camps frequently change and have widely varying technology experience.

Accenture and UNHCR put an early version BIMS to the test during a four-week pilot at the agency’s Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi. The Camp’s nearly 17,000 refugees were rapidly registered and verified during the pilot.

Once fully launched, the technology will allow UNHCR offices around the world to identify refugees using face, iris and fingerprint recognition. The system provides UNHCR with the flexibility to deploy it locally or remotely in high-risk areas, with Accenture’s worldwide presence providing support.


BIMS has quickly delivered impressive outcomes:

  • Enrolled over 120,000 refugees living in 9 camps in Thailand in three months, ordered by family groups, nationality and family size, processing an average of 3,000 enrollments a day at its peak.

  • Enrolled over 100,000 refugees to date in Chad, at a pace of about 2,500 enrollments a day.

  • Captured ten fingerprints, two iris images and a face photo for most individuals.

  • Enabled ration card delivery to enrolled and verified families.

“After reviewing the results of the trial in Malawi and making recommendations for improvements, we are moving forward and deploying a single global biometrics system for the agency that is fast, intuitive, secure, mobile, and durable in varied and challenging environments, “said Doug Greene, Chief Information Officer at UNHCR. We have now initiated a global roll-out of the system commencing in Thailand and Chad.”

For refugees, the system gives them a permanent identity record. “I can be someone now,” explained one Chadian refugee. “I am registered globally with the UN and you’ll always know who I am.”

By teaming with Accenture, the UNHCR is delivering public service for the future--improved help and protection for refugees in crisis.