Imagine you are at the supermarket checkout. But instead of rummaging through your wallet and counting small change, you just look into the camera. You are charged automatically. Science fiction? Not in Jordan. Since February 2016, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has been using this innovative method in providing humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees in Jordan.


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Hamda had to flee from the Syrian Daraa to Jordan. She pays for herself and her family using the iris scan. (c) Mohammad Batah/WFP

Project Name

Iris scan technology for Syrian refugees in Jordan


Jordan / MENA-Region (Middle East and North Africa)


Since February 2016

More than 4.8 million Syrians have fled to neighboring Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt in search of safety and security since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Every month, WFP provides aid to more than 1.6 million people in the region, mainly via electronic food vouchers.

A particularly innovative payment system is used in Jordanian refugee camps: Refugees can pay in the supermarket by having their iris scanned! The iris scan is then matched directly with the registration database of the refugee organization UNHCR, for which each refugee has already undergone an iris scan. Everyone has a distinctive iris structure and can be identified with certainty, comparable to a fingerprint.

As soon as a shopper has his or her iris scanned, the data is matched against the registration database of the refugee aid organization UNHCR. Then, the account balance is checked and the payment is made. Finally, the purchase is confirmed and a receipt is issued - all three steps within seconds! The receipt records the remaining balance: every month WFP provides the equivalent of around USD 28.


"The technology is safer for the Syrian refugees, while at the same time strengthening transparency."

(c) Shaza Moghraby/WFP
Hana Heraaki, a Syrian refugee in the Jordanian camp Zaatari, pays with the innovative iris scan. (c) Shaza Moghraby/WFP


Zaatari, a refugee camp for Syrian families who were forced to flee by war and violence, is the largest site where this new technology is being implemented. With almost 80,000 inhabitants, Zaatari is now the fourth largest city in Jordan.  


Mageed Yahia, WFP country director in Jordan, is convinced of the advantages of the system: "Iris scanning technology is a major step forward for Syrian refugees in Jordan. It is now easier and safer for them while at the same time strengthening transparency."

For Hana Heraaki, a resident of Zaatari, the innovation is mainly practical:  "I do not have to worry any more if I forget my card at home or misplace it. Anytime I pass a supermarket, I can simply go in and buy what is needed at home", she says.


A bit of self-determination

(c) Shaza Moghraby/WFP
Hana Heraaki brings her purchases home, which she just paid for by iris scan. Including rice, mince and cooking oil (c) Shaza Moghraby/WFP

The refugees can decide for themselves which food they need most - a bit of self-determination in their new homeland.

In addition, the program strengthens the local economy: through the voucher programs, more than USD 1.3 billion has already flowed into the economies of the neighboring countries which have received the refugees.

Since the biometric data is recorded by UNHCR during the registration process, no additional work is necessary, with considerable savings on administrative costs. And aid is ultimately delivered faster and more efficiently to the people who depend on it.


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A Project by

World Food Programme

UN World Food Programme (WFP)

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is the largest humanitarian organization in the world, supporting around 80 million people in more than 80 countries each year with food, money and vouchers.

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