On March 11, 2016, Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) founder Jeffrey Imm spoke with the UNHCR Thailand office Senior Protection Officer on the plan for 2016 UNHCR Urban Verification cards. This public statement is to provide a summary of the discussion for asylum seekers and refugees in Thailand, including Pakistan Christian asylum seekers and refugees, whose human rights have been supported by a number of organizations, including the Pakistan Christian Congress, British Pakistan Christian Association, R.E.A.L., and many others.
On February 12, 2016, R.E.A.L. and the Pakistan Christian Congress met with the Thailand Embassy in Washington DC and expressed our concern about the arbitrary arrest of Pakistan Christian asylum seekers and refugees who were waiting for refugee status determination decisions. It was expressed by the Thailand government that they understood our concerns and wanted to work to make improvements on this issue, as well as ensuring bail opportunities for any refugees arrested by immigration authorities.
R.E.A.L. learned this week that the UNHCR Thailand and the Thailand government held talks and agreed to introduce new UNHCR digitized Urban Verification cards to refugee applicants in Thailand, including Pakistan Christian refugees, as a method to more effectively identify such refugees to Thailand immigration authorities.
R.E.A.L. followed up in a telephone conversation with UNHCR Thailand on March 11, 2016 regarding the UNHCR Urban Verification cards. The purpose of R.E.A.L.’s discussion with UNHCR Thailand was to discuss the interests and concerns of refugees on the new Urban Verification cards, so that R.E.A.L. could provide a public statement to such refugees on this.
R.E.A.L. was told by the UNHCR Thailand Senior Protection Officer that the goal of these UNHCR Urban Verification cards are to provide a more consistent and reliable means for the Kingdom of Thailand immigration authorities to verify the identify of such refugee applicants, as opposed to only using the older paper-based UNHCR certificates. R.E.A.L. was told that the Thailand immigration authorities would more readily recognize the UNHCR Urban Verification cards as more genuine identification papers, which could be readily verified, along with biometric information on the card (photograph, fingerprint, iris scan).
R.E.A.L. was told the intent of such UNHCR Urban Verification cards is to ensure more verifiable and clear refugee identification documents, as an improvement over paper-based UNHCR certificates, which can get worn and faded over time, and which may not be as readily recognized. In addition, paper-based certificates could be more easily forged, whereas the UNHCR Urban Verification Card will provide a more reliable source of identification to Thailand immigration authorities.
The new digitized UNHCR Urban Verification cards will also have a Quick Response Code (QR Code), which is a form of a matrix barcode. This will allow ready identity verification using scanning by mobile devices, such a mobile phone.
R.E.A.L. communicated concerns that were heard from some refugees based on a history of fear and persecution, and concern that new identification documents could be used to aid in deportation of refugees. UNHCR Thailand assured R.E.A.L. that was not at all the intention of the Urban Verification Cards, and that these cards were simply intended to provide a modern, reliable, and most importantly, verifiable, means of identification for refugees, wherever it was needed, and especially with immigration authorities.
In addition, R.E.A.L. also wants to clarify that Urban Verification Cards are not official Thailand Government identification cards; they are UNHCR identification cards. These cards are not a work permit, a visa, and they do not change the status of refugee applicants.
The UNHCR Thailand office expressed to R.E.A.L. that the Urban Verification Cards have been successfully used by refugees in other parts of the world. In July 2015, in South Sudan, 3,400 refugees received such digitized identity cards in Western Equatoria. Since the launch of such digitized identification cards in June 2014 in Africa for Congo, Central African Republic, and Sudanese refugees, 10,000 refugees have received such digitized identity cards.
The UNHCR wanted to deploy such Urban Verification Cards for refugees in Thailand to help address security and identification needs of both the refugees and Kingdom of Thailand. The objective of the UNHCR is to more widely utilize such digitized UNHCR Verification Cards in other areas as well.
Obtaining the UNHCR Urban Verification Cards is a mandatory requirement for asylum seekers and refugees. The UNHCR will call all asylum seekers and refugees for individual appointments during the period of March 14 through May 8, 2016. It will be the responsibility of asylum seekers and refugees to come to the UNHCR Thailand office with all family members on the date/and time of the appointment to obtain such UNHCR Urban Verification Cards.
Later in March, R.E.A.L. will also have a follow-up conversation with UNHCR Thailand on human rights issues, which we briefly discussed with the UNHCR Thailand office. It is R.E.A.L.’s understanding that the UNHCR has expressed the desire to work with the Thailand Government for improvements in the circumstances and freedoms of asylum seekers and refugees. R.E.A.L.’s position will remain our core focus on the protection of refugees’ universal human rights, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). R.E.A.L. is also working to achieve follow-up discussions with the Kingdom of Thailand.
By necessity, some details on follow-up discussions will need to remain between those involved, as understandings and joint efforts for productive change mature. R.E.A.L. will certainly work to publicly share any specific commitments to change that will make a difference in the human rights and lives of refugees.