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In March 2017, the outbreak of violence in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) triggered a massive wave of new arrivals into northern Angola. Two years later, UNHCR has now registered more than 36,600 refugees fleeing the conflict.

By Omotola Akindipe

Jemima Matende, Registration Assistant, giving a ‘Comprovante do Registo’ to a refugee ©UNHCR/ Omotola Akindipe

To face this new registration challenge, UNHCR Angola is using the organization’s new Population Registration and Identity Management EcoSystem. The country was the fifteenth in Africa to roll-out PRIMES, UNHCR’s centralized data base with case management modules (proGres v4), cutting-edge Biometric Identity Management System (BIMS), and a newly developed Rapid Application (RApp) that allows for off-line registration. All those tools are now used for the registration process in Lunda Norte, the Angolan province where Congolese refugees stay in Lóvua settlement.

One of the new features offered by PRIMES allows the registration unit to print proof of biometric registration for refugees. This biometric printout is very important as it helps distinguishing them from irregular Congolese migrants in Lunda Norte and enables them to receive protection and access assistance as registered refugees. Previously, biometric information was printed on a standard A4 piece of paper that could be found anywhere on the market.

But there were several problems as Registration Assistant, Jemima Matende, underlined: “We distributed a document called ‘Comprovante do Registo’ as proof of registration, but it was extremely easy to forge and falsify. Last year for instance, there was a case of a Congolese lady who wanted to relocate to Lóvua settlement, but after verifying the Comprovante, we realised that it was a fake document and she was not a refugee”.

The forgery of documents surfaced during Operação Regaste and Operação Transparência. These operations, launched by the Government of Angola, aim to tackle illegal immigration and illegal diamond mining. Most undocumented migrants expelled were Congolese nationals and this led to an increase in forged documentation by people who wanted to avoid expulsion.

“We were discovering many cases of forged documents during these operations” Paulo Mbueno Mananga stated. Paulo, a Protection Associate in Dundo, works closely on these cases with Kapamba Alberto, UNHCR’s Field Safety Associate, as well as with UNHCR protection implementing partner Jesuit Refugee Service.

“Many undocumented Congolese did not want to be deported for various reasons, so they tried to obtain fake comprovantes. However, a normal comprovante contains a unique code for each refugee, whereas the falsified documents had incorrect digit identifiers, and this made it easy for the registration team to identify them”.

To strengthen the new print proof of registration offered by PRIMES, additional anti-fraud measures were taken by UNHCR Angola to make it easier for staff to identify forgery attempts and a secure paper containing security features such as a tracking code, a customised hologram and a watermark is now replacing the standard A4 sheet. With these features, the registration team hopes to mitigate the risk of forged documentation.

The registration team is now updating the new document for all refugees in Lóvua settlement during monthly food distributions. This also gives the team the opportunity to update important information such as addresses and avoids having to organise a separate day for documentation distribution.

According to Jemima, many refugees also seem to like the new system. ‘Refugees have been quite positive, especially due to the security features’.

This new process has also been well received by the Government of Angola that appreciates the way UNHCR is tackling sensitive issues such as forgery while always trying to find ways to improve the service offered to refugees.

UNHCR is committed to promoting and adhering to the highest standards of probity and accountability in the use of its resources, hence takes a zero-tolerance stance towards cases of fraud in its activities. The UN Refugee Agency has taken concrete steps, including thanks to PRIMES, towards reinforcing its efforts in this area.