• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Registration project improves profile of refugees in Mozambique

News Stories, 30 December 2004

© UNHCR/M.Sunjic
Taking photos of toddlers for the refugee registration at Marratane camp involves hiding Mum behind a UN-blue cloth.

MARRATANE CAMP, Mozambique, Dec 30 (UNHCR) It's the eve of the big day at Marratane refugee camp in northern Mozambique and tensions are running high for the UNHCR team.

"Did we buy enough stationery? Who is responsible for the generator's fuel? Speaking of fuel, do we have enough food and water? We need desk lamps to take pictures. Has anyone seen the 30m-long cord?"

Although they and the Mozambican refugee authorities, INAR (National Institute for Refugee Support), have been preparing for this event for weeks, the team is experiencing last-minute anxiety, checking and rechecking all the logistics to ensure the successful launch of a new expanded approach to refugee registration.

"Registration saves lives, especially in an emergency," says Dirk Hebecker, UNHCR's senior registration officer. "The sooner we know how many refugees there are in which location, including children and people with special needs, the faster we can distribute aid to everybody the weak and sick as well as the strong ones who can queue for hours. And do not forget separated families, children who get lost during the exodus. Immediate registration enables us to reunite families and trace lost persons."

UNHCR started working with Microsoft in the area of refugee registration in 1999, when a mass exodus of Kosovars to Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia prompted the need for high-capacity technologies that allow speedy registration and the issuance of identity documents for very large refugee populations. This involved developing innovative registration kits with laptop computers, digital cameras, identification card printers and other accessories as well as a computer programme tailored exactly to the needs of refugee population management.

In 2002, UNHCR launched its registration modernisation campaign known as Project Profile. Today, the agency is using advanced technology to manage routine refugee registration as well as mass influxes. In addition to a new registration handbook, the Profile team has developed a new registration database application, ProGres, which allows UNHCR staff to maintain and update relevant refugee data that can be adapted for use in virtually any setting. The partnership with Microsoft continues, with the company's volunteers helping to set up new registration systems in several countries.

Like in Marratane camp, all refugee registration operations require detailed planning and painstaking preparations. Hardware has to be installed in remote areas where electricity supply is erratic or non-existent. People have to be trained to operate the hardware and the software. Interviewers, data entry clerks, interpreters and protection staff have to understand the process and their role in it.

While UNHCR has the know-how and necessary equipment, refugee registration and the issuance of identity documents are primarily the responsibility of each host government. At Marratane camp, the registration exercise is being jointly conducted by UNHCR and INAR.

The camp's 4,500 refugees were informed of the operation well in advance. Everything runs like clockwork on the first day. Everybody knows what to do. The equipment is set up. Sungu-sungus, the refugee guards in the camp, organise the crowd and help with communications between interviewers, data entry clerks, the desk for special cases and the officers who approve the issuance of the card.

Refugees wait patiently until they are called to the desks to give their data. Files are retrieved and forms filled in. All refugees will get new food ration cards as well.

Everybody's photo is taken in front of a UN-blue piece of cloth. Little children have to be tricked. A toddler sits on his mother's lap while she hides behind the cloth so that only he appears in the photo. Older children laugh their heads off when they see their parents' photos pop up on the computer screens.

The whole place is abuzz. Last-minute questions are resolved. Some refugees do not know their first name from their family name, as is the case in many cultures. Normal camp business has to be attended to as well. A refugee died in hospital the night before. His body needs to be transported to the camp's burial site in spite of the stress and limited transportation capacity.

The most exciting moment comes late in the afternoon, when the card machine prints out its first impeccable, plasticized, falsification-proof refugee ID card.

Sifa, a young Congolese widow with a three-year-old daughter, receives the camp's first card from UNHCR Representative Marie Louise Dzietham and INAR National Director Rosa Chissaque. As fellow refugees crowd around to see her state-of-the-art card, Sifa looks very happy that it has replaced her old ID an A4-sized form with a photo glued to the top right corner.

© UNHCR/M.Sunjic
Congolese refugee Sifa (right) receiving the camp's first ID card from UNHCR's Marie Louise Dzietham and INAR's Rosa Chissaque.

"This looks much more official," she says of her new card. "The police will recognise it easily now and not give us any more troubles."

The staff at Marratane camp are relieved at the successful start of their registration activity, which will continue through the end of the year. As the refugees marvel at their first encounter with 21st-century technology, the UNHCR team has already started thinking about the next operation in another corner of the world.

By Melita H. Sunjic in Mozambique

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

The 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol

The most frequently asked questions about the treaty and its protocol.

The Right to Asylum

Related news stories to Unit plan for ages 15-18 in Human Rights and Refugees: The Right to Asylum

Registration

The recording, verifying, and updating of information on people of concern to UNHCR so they can be protected and UNHCR can ultimately find durable solutions.

Prominent Refugees

An A-Z of refugee achievers around the world.

Statelessness in Viet Nam

Viet Nam's achievements in granting citizenship to thousands of stateless people over the last two years make the country a global leader in ending and preventing statelessness.

Left stateless after the 1975 collapse of the bloody Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, nearly 1,400 former Cambodian refugees received citizenship in Viet Nam in 2010, the culmination of five years of cooperation between the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Vietnamese government. Most of the former refugees have lived in Viet Nam since 1975, all speak Vietnamese and have integrated fully. Almost 1,000 more are on track to get their citizenship in the near future. With citizenship comes the all-important family registration book that governs all citizens' interactions with the government in Viet Nam, as well as a government identification card. These two documents allow the new citizens to purchase property, attend universities and get health insurance and pensions. The documents also allow them to do simple things they could not do before, such as own a motorbike.

Viet Nam also passed a law in 2009 to restore citizenship to Vietnamese women who became stateless in the land of their birth after they married foreign men, but divorced before getting foreign citizenship for them and their children.

UNHCR estimates that up to 12 million people around the world are currently stateless.

Statelessness in Viet Nam

Keeping Occupied in Turkey's Adiyaman camp for Syrian Refugees

Since the conflict in Syria erupted in April 2011, the government of neighbouring Turkey has established 17 camps in eight provinces to provide safety and shelter to tens of thousands of refugees - three-quarters of them women and children. The camps, including Adiyaman depicted here, provide a place to live and address the basic physical needs of the residents, but they also provide access to health care, education, vocational training and other forms of psychosocial support.

UNHCR teams are present on a regular basis in all the refugee camps and provide technical assistance to the Turkish authorities on all protection-related concerns, including registration, camp management, specific needs and vulnerabilities, and voluntary repatriation. UNHCR has contributed tents, cooking facilities and other relief items. The refugee agency is also working with the government to help an estimated 100,000 Syrian urban refugees. It will continue its material and technical support to help the authorities cope with an increase in arrivals. The following images of camp life were taken by American photographer, Brian Sokol, in Adiyaman camp, located in Turkey's Gaziantep province. At the start of February 2013, nearly 10,000 Syrian refugees were living in the camp.

Keeping Occupied in Turkey's Adiyaman camp for Syrian Refugees

Climate change and displacement

In the past few years, millions of people have been displaced by natural disasters, most of which are considered to be the direct result of climate change. Sudden weather events, such as Myanmar's Cyclone Nargis in 2008, widespread flooding in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps in 2006 and the drought that hit Ethiopia in the 1980s, can leave huge numbers of people traumatized and without access to shelter, clean water and basic supplies.

The international community has entrusted UNHCR with responsibility for protecting and assisting people who are forcibly displaced and who cannot return safely home. Although the majority of people displaced by climate change will remain within their own borders, where states have clearly defined responsibilities, additional support may be required.

When called upon to intervene, UNHCR can deploy emergency teams and provide concrete support in terms of registration, documentation, family reunification and the provision of shelter, basic hygiene and nutrition.

Among those who are displaced across borders as a result of climate change, some will be refugees while others may not meet the definition. Nevertheless, many may be in need of protection and assistance.

Climate change and displacement

Jordan: New Refugee Registration Centre OpensPlay video

Jordan: New Refugee Registration Centre Opens

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visits a new registration centre in the Jordanian capital, Amman. The centre was opened to accommodate the growing needs of the many Syrian refugees living in Jordan.
Top business partners renew supportPlay video

Top business partners renew support

Executives from Manpower, Young & Rubicam, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Microsoft visit UNHCR operations in South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia.