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Lebanon seeking refugee biometric data: Derbas

This Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013 photo shows Syrian women checking in at the U.N. refugee agency's registration center in Zahleh, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

BEIRUT: After saying that Lebanon had iris scans of Syrian refugees on record, Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas retreated Friday afternoon, saying General Security was working with UNHCR to access the agency's biometric data.

“The Lebanese state has eye scans of refugees on record,” he told NBN television station early Friday without elaborating.

When contacted by The Daily Star, Derbas clarified that while the government didn't currently have the biometric data, it was working with UNHCR to "establish a system that would turn the data over to General Security."

"Why wouldn't they give it to us, they are working on Lebanese territory," he said.

Separately, a Daily Star reporter visiting a UNHCR refugee registration center in Zahle saw the scanners in action. UNHCR’s field coordinator, Maeve Murphy, told a Daily Star reporter that iris scans were among the biometric data the agency was collecting.

“We have iris scanning so we check to make sure they’re not registered anywhere else,” Murphy said during a visit by a German delegation to the center.

A poster released by the UNHCR 10 days ago in English and Arabic explaining iris scanning states "the iris images will be saved on UNHCR's database and will not be shared without your consent." The agency began scanning refugees' irises in November 2013.

When reached for comment, Murphy said "no information was shared with anyone to the best of my knowledge. This is not something we would do at all."

 

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