A UN worker scans the iris of a Syrian girl registering as a refugee at the Zaatari camp in Jordan.

A UN worker scans the iris of a Syrian girl registering as a refugee at the Zaatari camp in Jordan.

Image credit: UNHCR

Aiding Syrian refugees, one iris scan at a time

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    Image credit: UNHCR

    Over six million people are thought to have been displaced by the Syrian civil war, leading to a human crisis on a scale not seen in decades. While countries around the world have offered aid and asylum -- some more than others -- to refugees, it's Syria's neighbors that house the vast majority. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has registered almost 4.6 million Syrians fleeing conflict, of which 4.45 million (97 percent) are in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. And these numbers don't take into account those that have been unable to return due to conflict -- Jordan claims to have 1.27 million Syrians within its borders, for example, while the UNHCR has only registered 635,000.

    As part of the registration process, UNHCR takes iris scans of each and every person seeking asylum. This system is vastly better than the identification papers of the past at keeping track of a shifting and at risk population. It also has fringe benefits. In partnership with the Cario Amman Bank, UNHCR has established a biometric ATM network in Jordan that allows refugees to withdraw cash using just their eyes as identification.

    This system ensures those that have been assessed as deserving of aid -- and only those that have been assessed -- can get money without hassle. And for Jordan, it's hoped the cash will flow into its economy, serving as additional compensation for its humanitarian efforts.

    The Big Picture is a recurring feature highlighting beautiful images that tell big stories. We explore topics as large as our planet, or as small as a single life, as affected by or seen through the lens of technology.

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