Chad is issuing identity cards to about 110,000 refugees, over the age of 18, from Sudan's conflict-ridden Darfur region. The ID cards, which are printed by the U.N. refugee agency and issued by the government of Chad, confer a number of benefits, including freedom of movement in the country.
The U.N. refugee agency says the first recipients of the ID cards are very happy to get them because they now have a document which shows they are fully accepted as refugees in Chad.
The UNHCR runs 12 camps for about 250,000 Sudanese refugees who fled the conflict in Darfur. About 110,000 refugees are eligible to receive the ID cards because they are over the age of 18. The remaining 140,000 refugees are too young.
UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond, tells VOA one of the main problems facing refugees after their immediate life-saving needs are met is that of identity.
"Many people flee with absolutely nothing. They do not have birth certificates. They do not have drivers' licenses. They do not have any kind of identification. So, one of the things that we do regularly with refugees around the world is work with host governments to provide people with some kind of an identity document that allows them to take advantage of some of the basic rights that they are entitled to under the 1951 Refugee Convention," Redmond said.
Redmond says the refugees will not be able to use the ID cards to cross international borders. He says it is like an internal passport or internal document that gives them freedom of movement within the country. They can use the document to search for work or perhaps, even to own property.
He says preparations for this joint initiative have been under way since the end of 2006 and identity and age verification in the 12 camps were supposed to have begun in 2008.
But the program only began in April due to lasting insecurity in eastern Chad. Nevertheless, spokesman Redmond says the UNHCR has managed to process about 37,000 refugees in two of the camps.
He says he expects all 110,000 IDs will have been distributed by the end of this year, provided the verification process is not interrupted again.