Why a tiny Indian state defied the national government to defend refugees’ biometric data

Mizoram refused to give the Indian government the data for some 35,000 refugees from Myanmar residing in the state.

The fifth smallest state in India, with a population of barely over 1.1 million (at least 30 Indian cities are more populous), has stood up to the central government and refused to collect the biometric data of refugees from Myanmar.

Mizoram is among the Indian states that share a border with Myanmar, and reportedly houses around 35,000 refugees from the country. “The people who have come from Myanmar are our relatives,” Pu Lalruatkima, Mizoram’s minister of information and public relations, told The Indian Express. “When borders were drawn during the time of the British, some of our brothers and sisters got left on the other side.”

Recording migrants’ biometric information can help them receive the support and resources they need, but such data collection drives can also put this vulnerable group at risk, according to cybersecurity expert Joseph K. Nwankpa. “I think it is important to understand that while identifying people using biometrics might be convenient for organizations collecting the data, the practice comes with inherent privacy risks that can threaten vulnerable people’s safety,” Nwankpa wrote in an article for The Conversation.

In 2021, Human Rights Watch published an exposé that revealed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had “improperly collected and shared personal information,” including biometrics, of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar with Bangladesh, which then shared the data with Myanmar for potential repatriation of some refugees. The UN refugee agency effectively put the already at-risk refugees in a difficult situation — and even failed to get informed consent from some refugees to share their data, Human Rights Watch reported.

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“Partially, it’s a question of who biometrics are really for,” humanitarian policy researchers at global think tank ODI wrote in a piece. “Despite assertions that biometric IDs can make receiving aid more efficient and more dignified … fraud reduction, efficiency savings, security requirements, or simply path dependence — ‘this is how we do things now’ — play a much more prominent role.”

“These considerations are much more squarely aligned with the interests of aid agencies, donors, host governments, and technology providers, than with refugees,” the piece said.

Author: ZomiNews

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