South Sudan: Innovation in delivering aid to refugees

10 May 2013

April 2013, Maban, South Sudan: Healthcare workers from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) talk with new arrivals to the Doro refugee camp about a recent outbreak of Hepatitis E. The outbreak has affected over 9,000 people across the four camps where people fleeing conflict in Sudan’s Blue Nile State have sought refuge. Credit: OCHA
A biometric tool is helping aid agencies in South Sudan deliver more effective assistance.

A state-of the art biometric tool based on electronically captured fingerprints is enabling aid agencies in South Sudan to register and assist refugees more efficiently.

Since conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North began in Sudan’s Blue Nile State in September 2011, an estimated 115,000 people have fled across the border to South Sudan’s Maban region.

Better information, better assistance

The Doro refugee camp is one of four camps established by local authorities and humanitarian organizations in Maban. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has set up a registration centre to identify and register those entering the camp.

Hundreds of people are squeezed into the crowded tent. Thanks to the new biometric tool, UNHCR staff can capture information about the families and match it with their fingerprints, which have been captured electronically and stored online. The system is straightforward and means that aid agencies can get detailed information about people quickly so they can deliver assistance in a better and more efficient way.

The tool also works as a safeguard to prevent people from registering twice, ensuring that everyone gets the assistance they are entitled to, with no-one left out.

Lukas Rust, the UNHCR Protection Officer for Doro, is an advocate of the new tool which he says saves time and resources. “Now that we are using biometrics to get peoples’ details, we don’t have to go from house to house to verify whether someone is a new arrival.”

Working together

Lukas and the 30-person team register about 2,500 refugees a day. Other agencies working at the registration centre include the Danish Refugee Council, which provides translators, runners and maintenance at the centre, as well as transport for people with limited mobility. Samaritan’s Purse provides administrative support, and Save the Children is on site to identify children who need special assistance, including those who are separated from their parents.

Other UN agencies and humanitarian partners make use of the opportunity to reach large numbers of people at the registration centre. Since September 2012, a Hepatitis E outbreak in and around the Maban camps has affected over 9,000 people and is believed to have claimed the lives of more than 160.

A team from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) uses a loud speaker and laminated placards to warn families about the disease, as well as provide information on how to spot it and prevent it. The health workers speak in Uduk, the local language of the community being registered that morning.

The head of UNHCR’s office in Upper Nile State, Adan Ilmi, says the disease has been contained across all four camps, but that aid agencies must keep up their water and sanitation activities to ensure that it does not spread and that numbers continue to fall. As people leave the registration centre, health workers stand at the exit to check them for symptoms and to provide assistance if needed.

Jacob and Elizabeth, new arrivals

Jacob and his wife Elizabeth are at the registration centre with their four small children. Jacob speaks in broken English, which he says he has learned in the camp. They are there to register their details so they can receive assistance, he says.

UNHCR’s Lukas Rust is proud of both the new biometric system, and the fact that aid agencies are working together to help deliver assistance to people in need. “We are working hard to make the centre run smoothly so refugees can access services quickly,” he says. “And the biometrics is a valuable tool to speed up the process.”