© UNHCR/Kamrul Hasan
1.1 Introduction to the Guidance on Registration and Identity management

In 2003, UNHCR issued a provisional Handbook for Registration, which introduced for the first time a detailed and standardized approach to registration, documentation and data management for asylum seekers and refugees. Since then, the global refugee population has more than doubled, with currently 24 million refugees and asylum seekers under UNHCR’s mandate. The international protection landscape for refugees has also evolved in ways which bear upon the scope and nature of UNHCR’s registration activities around the world.

In 2015, the international community adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and UNHCR continues to engage with host countries on those SDGs that impact on persons of concern, in the spirit of leaving no one behind. In the registration and identity management context, SDG 16.9 is key – by 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration. The SDGs also serve to reinforce efforts under the Global Compact on Refugees, which strives to strengthen the international response to  large or protracted  refugee situations, including by easing pressure on host countries and including refugees in host communities for the benefit of everybody.

UNHCR has worked to align its role and support functions in registration and identity management to the SDGs and the GCR. This includes providing support, where possible, for the inclusion of refugees in national registries and the subsequent issuance of nationally recognized ID documents, which represent a powerful tool of protection, enabling refugees to access rights and pursue social and economic opportunities that can help rebuild their lives. In addition, registration procedures have been streamlined on the ground for a more immediate protection impact, robust identity management tools and systems have been rolled-out in field operations and new partnerships pursued in the field of technological innovation and digitization for the benefit of refugees. With host countries in all regions of the world increasingly assuming registration responsibilities, UNHCR has also worked on standards and guidance to facilitate the process of transition and support new government registration systems become sustainable over the longer term.


  • The current guidance has been developed alongside the Policy on Registration and Identity Management and sets out the developments of the past decade in this core activity, key to protection and solution outcomes. Its purpose is to support UNHCR staff in the implementation of the afore-mentioned policy, while also providing UNHCR operations, host governments and registration partners with a comprehensive repository of guidance and good practices in registration and identity management. The guidance is published electronically and shall be updated as necessary over time, ensuring it remains current and aligned with evolving practices, technological advances and UNHCR policy developments in the future.


  • The scope of this guidance corresponds to the scope of the Policy on Registration and Identity Management. As such, it applies to registration and identity management activities for asylum-seekers and refugees. In this regard, it covers registration relating to all phases of displacement from preparedness to pre-registration and emergency registration, to regular registration and biometric enrolment, continuous registration and verification exercises. It also considers a variety of operational settings including emergencies, camp and urban environments and the different scenarios for UNHCR/government collaboration on registration, from UNHCR-only through to government-only registration procedures. IDP enrolment and registration of other populations of concern are outside the scope of this guidance and the related policy.1

    1 Guidance on registration and identity management activities relating to other populations of concern to follow.


  • The guidance is divided into 8 modules plus one module for annexes at the end, the latter which includes important registration-related forms and templates. Each module contains a clickable table of contents facilitating quick access to content by users.

    Module 2 considers the different scenarios in which registration of asylum-seekers and refugees is conducted depending on the responsible authority (i.e. State and /or UNHCR) and the ways in which UNHCR may offer registration support to host governments, including in the context of registration transitions. Refugees and asylum seekers’ registration is a State responsibility, and should be carried out in accordance with international law and the standards affirmed in the ExCom Conclusion on the Registration of Refugees and Asylum-seekers No. 91 (LII). UNHCR and governments collaborate in a number of ways to achieve this. Module 2 also provides guidance on how UNHCR, together with international development partners, may work with host states to achieve socio-economic inclusion of refugees, including through supporting the provision of official ID documentation that demonstrates proof of legal identity. Such documentation (e.g. ID Card), when recognized and accepted by public and private service providers, can significantly ease interactions with authorities and help prevent refoulement and arrest, facilitate inclusion in national health, education and social protection systems and enable legal access to the labour market, banking, credit, mobile and other digital services. In the case of children born in transit and in host States, a birth certificate issued by the civil registry can help prevent statelessness and may be the only source of identity documentation accepted by other States.

    Module 3 sets out the numerous steps involved in planning a registration activity, from strategy development and designing registration SOPs to assessing staffing and infrastructure needs and organising the physical setup of a registration site. Module 4 provides guidance on the necessary communication and consultation with communities about registration, and the different channels and information products that may be envisaged depending on the context, audience and message. Module 5 provides step-by-step advice on implementing reception procedures and scheduling interviews, conducting registration interviews using PRIMES tools and recording registration data accurately and consistently. It furthermore provides standards for documentation issuance and electronic and physical file management.

    Module 6 considers registration in an emergency, focusing on how emergency registration may differ from regular registration, whether owing to the significant operational challenges often associated with emergencies (e.g. staffing and time constraints), or activities that may be specific to emergencies like providing transportation to a registration site. Module 7 explains how registration data can be analysed and leveraged for effective protection programming and assistance management, as well as for statistical reporting and evidence-based advocacy. Module 8 looks at continuous registration and verification exercises, situating these activities in an identity management context and emphasizing the importance of continuity in building up evidence of an individual’s identity over time. This module also underlines the need to fully verify identity information at every successive occasion, whether during registration or other case management interview, protection counselling, cash assistance activity or other interaction.

Terms and definitions

  • Biographical data refers to personal data such as name, sex, marital status, date and place of birth, country of origin, country of asylum, individual registration number, occupation, religion and ethnicity.

    Biometric data is data related to a personal biological (anatomical or physiological) characteristic which can be used to establish a person’s identity by comparing it with stored reference biometric data, specifically fingerprint, facial or iris image.

    Civil registration is the continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal recording of the occurrence and characteristics of vital events pertaining to the population as provided through decree or regulation in accordance with the legal requirements of a country. Civil registration is carried out primarily for the purpose of establishing the documents provided by law.

    Continuous registration refers to the updating and verifying of records that takes place as part of day-to-day case management activities over time.

    Entitlement document is any document which is used to identify eligibility for, allow access to and/or track the provision of benefits, services or assistance to specific individuals or groups

    Identity is a set of attributes that uniquely describes an individual or entity.

    Identity document or credential is any document or credential which may be used as proof of identity, which may also include reference to the individuals’ legal status and associated rights vis-à-vis the host State and/or UNHCR.

    Implementing Partner is an organization established as an autonomous and independent entity from UNHCR that UNHCR engages through a project partnership agreement to undertake the implementation of programmatic activities within UNHCR’s mandate.

    Legal identity refers to the recognition of a person’s existence everywhere before the law, facilitating the realization of fundamental rights and corresponding duties. Article 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms this right, which is realized, inter alia, through registration of birth in a state civil registry or population register.

    Joint registration is an arrangement whereby UNHCR works in partnership with Governments of host States to provide individual registration and documentation of refugees and asylum seekers.

    State legal identity system refers to any centralized, government-administered register by means of which a State manages identity records of its citizens and residents, including for the purpose of issuance of identity documentation.

    Operational Partners are organizations whose work is complementary to that of UNHCR and which may be assisting the same beneficiaries or working towards the same goals, but with which no sub-agreement has been signed.

    Parallel registration refers to a situation where UNHCR and government authorities have distinct procedures for registering asylum-seekers, usually for different purposes, and therefore collect and manage different datasets.

    Personal Data means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (i.e. information about a person from which the person can be identified).

    Person of concern refers to specific categories of persons falling under the mandate of UNHCR, for which the Office has certain responsibilities for protection and assistance. This includes refugees and asylum seekers, returnees, stateless persons and internally displaced persons.

    Proof of legal identity is defined as a document or credential, such as a birth certificate, identity card or digital identity credential that is recognized as proof of legal identity under national law and in accordance with emerging international norms and principles.

    Registration is the recording, verifying and updating of information on individual persons of concern to UNHCR with the aim of protecting, assisting and documenting them and of implementing durable solutions.

    (Registration) Transition refers to a process or period of time where UNHCR effectively takes steps to transfer its registration functions to host Governments for assumption of responsibility.

    UNHCR personnel refers to all individuals working as UNHCR staff, affiliate workforce of any type (consultants, deployees, IUNVs, interns.)

    Verification exercises are a time-bound registration activity in a defined area and/or for a specific population or caseload and consists of verifying and updating individual registration records and, as appropriate, collecting additional information. Verification exercises are considered a type of continuous registration.

    Vital event is the occurrence of a live birth, death, foetal death, marriage, divorce, annulment, judicial separation, adoption, legitimation, or recognition of parenthood.