UNHCR seeks ProGres in refugee registration

Sierra Leone is one of many countries where UNHCR staff are being trained in a new registration software programme, ProGres, to improve the collection, sharing and use of information on refugees and other persons of concern.

UNHCR staff in Freetown learning how to use the new ProGres registration software.   © UNHCR/R.Goldstein-Rodriguez

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, Sept 1 (UNHCR) - UN refugee agency staff around the world are learning to use a new registration software programme, ProGres, to improve the way they collect, share and use information on refugees and other persons of concern.

A team comprising staff from UNHCR's headquarters in Geneva and a volunteer from software company Microsoft is currently in Sierra Leone to teach UNHCR staff on the new unified and standard approach to conducting refugee registration.

"Before, we had dozens of databases that were not necessarily compatible," said Dona Tarpey, who runs Project Profile, the UNHCR team responsible for developing new standards, procedures and tools to support the registration of persons of concern to the agency.

"With ProGres, we now have one unified database that caters for a wide range of UNHCR operations and situations, from camp-based to urban refugees, from repatriation to resettlement," she added.

The new software programme was tested in Ankara and Ghana before the current series of training sessions in the field. Besides grappling with the new technology, UNHCR staff are learning to register refugees under new guidelines to standardise the information collected. Special protection needs, for example for women and children, will also be taken into account during registration.

In the case of Sierra Leone, ProGres and the improved registration guidelines should go a long way in facilitating the repatriation of Liberian refugees in October. UNHCR will have more accurate and extensive bio-data on potential returnees - their areas of origin, protection needs, etc. - so that it can better prepare the areas of return in Liberia.

Aside from repatriation, the new system will also make it easier for UNHCR staff to conduct refugee status determination, provide assistance, process resettlement cases and facilitate local integration.

For now, the new system allows staff from different field offices within a country to share relevant information. In the longer term, the database will be accessible to UNHCR offices around the world.

The three-week workshop currently underway in Freetown is just one of many to come. The training teams have already visited Egypt, Malaysia, Thailand, Uganda, and plan to move on to countries like Guinea, Lebanon, Liberia, Rwanda and Tanzania before the end of the year.

ProGres was designed and developed by UNHCR, with its corporate partner, Microsoft, providing technical advice.