A Rohingya refugee repairs the roof of his shelter at the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, March 5, 2019.
FILE - A Rohingya refugee repairs the roof of his shelter at the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, March 5, 2019.

GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency reports more than half-a-million Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh have received identity documents that will give them better access to aid. 

An estimated 900,000 Rohingya refugees are living in overcrowded, squalid camps in the town of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.  Most of them fled there two years ago to escape persecution and violence in Myanmar.

A joint registration project by Bangladeshi authorities and the U.N. refugee agency will give identity documents to more than 500,000 of the refugees, many for the first time.  

The data on these fraud-proof, biometric cards will give national authorities and humanitarian partners a better understanding of the population and its needs.  UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic tells VOA the data collected will allow aid agencies to better help people with specific needs. 

“The point of the verification exercise, of conducting a biometric data registration is first and foremost to protect the right of the Rohingya refugees to return to their homes… It is meant to ensure far better planning and far better targeting of the assistance, of very specific types of assistance, that, for example, women would need, that children would need,” said Mahecic.

Mahecic explains the new registration cards indicate Myanmar is the country of origin.  He says that information is critical in establishing and safeguarding the right of Rohingya refugees to return to their homes in Myanmar, if and when they decide to do so.

The UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies say they do not believe conditions in Myanmar currently are safe enough for the refugees to return home.

The registration process began in June 2018.   On average, some 5,000 refugees are being registered every day.  The UNHCR says it aims to complete biometric registrations and provide identification documents for the remaining 400,000 people in Cox’s Bazar by the end of the year.