Giving The Displaced An Identity

Darryl Huard has a daunting task. As an officer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Huard works to help secure official papers for refugees. It is a crucial step in the process of finding new homes for displaced people and for ensuring they can return to their home country once conditions improve.

“Refugees are people living in forced displacement and they often have no legal documentation, which is the only way they can get access to many services,” says the U of G grad. “To have legal status, they must have documentation.”

Darryl Huard
Darryl Huard helps lessen the vulnerability of refugees

When people are forced to flee their homes to escape war, persecution or violence, registration and documentation is a vital first step in ensuring their protection against forced return, arbitrary arrest and detention. Without documentation, he says, persons are at risk of being stateless, since they are unable to provide evidence of their legal identity and often cannot access basic social services and education. The UNHCR program helps keep families together and reunites children with their families.

“I help to ensure that people have access to an identity, so that children can get birth certificates and people have legal documentation and rights,” he says. “The job is very much science-based, involving statistics, population profiles and demographic data.”

Huard studied physical sciences at U of G from 1988 to 1991, graduating with a B.Sc. He went on to earn a graduate diploma in international public health management at the University of Paris XI and also studied law at the University of Ottawa. Many of the skills he acquired at U of G are directly applicable to his work.

He has been stationed in refugee zones throughout the world, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Uganda, Eastern Europe and most recently Brazil. Now posted to Panama in the UNHCR Regional Bureau for the Americas and Caribbean, Huard is a registration and identity management officer for the Americas.

“My law studies helped me understand the legal side of immigration, refugee status and rights, but when it comes to actually putting things into practice, you need that scientific methodology of mathematics and statistics,” he says. “All of this, I learned in courses at U of G.”

UNHCR uses processes including biometrics to enrol “persons of concern” – refugees, internally displaced persons, asylum seekers or those who are stateless. The enrolment process involves recording physical characteristics and as much biographical information and family data as possible. The UNHCR global database comprises several million refugees.

According to helprefugees.org, more than 70 million people are currently displaced in the world, a record high. One in every 113 people around the world is an asylum seeker, internally displaced or a refugee. Currently, 55 percent of refugees come from Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan. In the Americas alone, some five million Venezuelans have sought refuge outside their country of origin, including in Canada.