An Afghan refugee receives her smartcard from a NADRA official at the Documentation Renewal and Information Verification Exercise Centre Islamabad. Image Credit: Supplied

Islamabad: Pakistan’s Ministry of State & Frontier Regions (SAFRON) and the office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) under an agreement have started issuing biometric identity smart cards to around 1.4 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.

The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) is providing technical assistance and issuing the advanced-featured smarts cards to the Afghan refugees.

Known in the past as the registration cards, the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards will have the same advanced features that Pakistan’s Computerized National Identity Cards (CNICs) possess.

According to the UNHCR, the issuance of the PoR card is a part of the government-led and UNHCR-supported Documentation Renewal and Information Verification Exercise (DRIVE).

Same technology

The exercise is currently verifying the information of 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan and will issue them with new PoR smartcards based on the same technology used for Pakistani citizen identification cards, said the UNHCR spokesperson.

First census of Afghan refugees was held in 2005 and they were issued registration cards a year after census in 2006-07 for a period of three years.

Later, they were issued new cards for three more years and since then their registration is renewed every years, the spokesperson said adding the PoR smart cards too are issued for a period of two years.

About those who want to go back, the UNHCR representative said each Afghan migrant is given US $250 (Dh918) upon return, however, he/she is required to surrender his smart card.

However, UNHCR has never asked them either to go back or continue to stay as refugees he said adding this is entirely their personal choice.

Refugees who completed their DRIVE verification interviews will be receiving SMS notifications with the information of when and where to receive their new PoR smartcards.

“The DRIVE exercise is a joint effort between the SAFRON Ministry and UNHCR, with the technical assistance of NADRA,” said Saleem Khan, the Chief Commissioner for Afghan Refugees in Pakistan.

The UNHCR Representative in Pakistan, Noriko Yoshida, appreciated the government’s efforts for taking this important exercise forward, seeing it as an important opportunity to strengthen the protection of refugees and better understand existing needs in the refugee community.

Updated information

“DRIVE will provide updated information on registered Afghan refugees and their immediate family members in Pakistan.

“This will allow us to better plan and deliver our support to the Government of Pakistan and refugees, as well as the communities hosting them,” said Noriko Yoshida.

The new PoR smartcards will be offering new possibilities for identity verification, including in the banking sector, said the spokesperson.

"In addition to validating existing data, the verification will record Afghan refugees’ skill sets, level of education, socio-economic circumstances and sources of income, allowing better targeted health, education and livelihood support in Pakistan and in the Priority Areas of Return and Reintegration in Afghanistan," the spokesperson said.