After a long journey, we arrived safely in Jordan last night. On our way from the airport to our hotel, of course we quickly stopped outside IKEA Amman, which opened in March this year.
After breakfast we went to the UNHCR headquarters in Amman. This is where the registration office is located and where around 3000 refugees apply for financial aid and counselling every day. They even have a helpline where refugees in need of help can talk to a counsellor for free through their mobile phones with SIM cards provided by UNHCR.
Some of the solutions in place were a lot different from what we expected. We pictured a lot more “typical emergency help” in form of food rations, clean water and basic human needs. But as one of the UNHCR workers said; “The help is not for months, it is for years.” In Jordan there are already over 600,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict, and with a population of around 6,400,000 in total the need of including and integrating the refugees in a sustainable way is critical.
Innovative thinking and new technology has helped UNHCR make the transfer of money to refugees easier, more secure and more dignified. Instead of providing vouchers, which limit the families to what they can buy, the refugees are given money transferred into a bank account.
Instead of using fingerprints or PIN codes, UNHCR uses new technology we had never seen before. All refugees over the age of three have their eyes photographed by an iris scanner. One of the main reasons that UNHCR can make use of such great technology is, amongst other, the funds from IKEA Foundation earmarked for innovation.
What we found intriguing about using this technology is that UNHCR respects women’s integrity by allowing them to be identified without having to remove their cultural veils. The use of the scanners also means that people can’t just hand over their card and PIN number to someone else if they decide to go back home, or if anything else should happen to them. Also, while the fingerprints will change somewhat when kids are growing up, the iris scan will remain the same.