Iris scan helps Syrian refugees in Jordan receive UN supplies in ‘blink of eye’

6 October 2016

The United Nations food relief and refugee agencies have jointly introduced an innovative iris scan payment system in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp, allowing 76,000 Syrian refugees to purchase food from camp supermarkets by using a scan of their eyes instead of cash, vouchers or e-cards.

The cutting-edge technology was first introduced by the World Food Programme (WFP) in partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in February in Jordan’s King Abdullah Park refugee camp and was expanded to Azraq refugee camp in April, with an eye towards expanding to refugees outside of camps, according to a news release from WFP.

Now I don’t have to worry if I forgot my card at home or if I misplaced it.

“The iris scan payment system has been extremely successful, and we are thrilled that WFP and its partners are now able to serve Syrian refugees living in Jordan’s largest camp through this innovative system,” said WFP Country Director Mageed Yahia. “Iris scan technology has reshaped the shopping experience for Syrian refugees in Jordan, making it easier and more secure for them, while also enhancing accountability,” he added.For the first time in the history of humanitarian assistance, a WFP beneficiary received food assistance in the blink of an eye. “Now I don’t have to worry if I forgot my card at home or if I misplaced it. Whenever I’m near the shop, I can just walk in and get whatever food that’s missing from home,” said Hana Heraaki, a Za’atari resident.

WFP’s system relies on UNHCR biometric registration data of refugees. The system is powered by IrisGuard, the company that developed the iris scan platform, Jordan Ahli Bank and its counterpart Middle East Payment Services.

Once a shopper has their iris scanned, the system automatically communicates with UNHCR’s registration database to confirm the identity of the refugee, checks the account balance with the financial services firms and then confirms the purchase and prints out a receipt – all within seconds.

Through the iris scan and electronic voucher programme, WFP supports more than half a million Syrian refugees in Jordan.

News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

UN humanitarian chief sees first-hand harrowing conditions of refugees at Syria-Jordan border's berm

On a visit to northern Jordan today, the top United Nations humanitarian official saw first-hand the conditions that more than 70,000 Syrian refugees, mostly women and children, are having to stay in along the border with Syria – in the middle of the desert, under a blazing sun and with no food or water – amid talks with Jordanian authorities aimed at resolving their plight.