Planning and Preparing Registration and Identity Management Systems
© UNHCR/Michele Sibiloni
3.3 Access to registration

Key messages

    • Registration should be physically, economically and socially accessible to all asylum-seekers and refugees within three months of their arrival on a territory.
    • UNHCR Offices should understand the main barriers to registration in each operational context and identify practical ways to mitigate them.
    • Access to registration must never be, or appear to be, arbitrary or random.

Access to registration

  • Access to registration is critical to the realization of the fundamental right to seek asylum, and should be available on a voluntary basis to all persons seeking international protection without discrimination, except fighters and citizens of country of asylum, who are not admissible. Registration should be physically, economically and socially accessible to all asylum-seekers and refugees within three months of their arrival on a territory, irrespective of their age, gender, race, religion national or ethnic origin, political or other opinion, sexual orientation and gender identity, disability or any other health or personal status. In addition, registration processes must be free of charge and no fees should be charged for related activities, such as documentation or the taking of photos.

    Implicit in these key principles is the notion that access to registration should not be subject to restrictions based on eligibility for refugee status, eligibility for assistance and access to services, availability of durable solutions or other consideration or criteria. Where UNHCR conducts refugee registration under its mandate, all persons seeking international protection in the country of asylum should be able to access registration procedures. In contexts where State authorities register only part of the refugee population on its territory, UNHCR should advocate for the Government to register all asylum-seeker and refugee populations on its territory, and consider options to capacitate the Government to do so. Where the Government is unwilling to register a certain population, UNHCR should undertake to register the remaining populations under its mandate. Equally, UNHCR should only register a sub-set of the refugee population for the purposes of facilitating assistance or protection interventions when the remaining refugee population is otherwise registered by the State.

Responding to barriers to registration

  • All efforts should be made, therefore, to ensure asylum-seekers and refugees have to access registration procedures. This requires Offices to be proactive in identifying the main barriers in an operational context and finding practical ways to mitigate them.

    Below are some common barriers to registration and several approaches to help mitigate them:

    11 For example, proposing a longer validity period of registration documents, or proposing the use of a shorter dataset for faster processing capacity if appropriate.

    12 Including some contexts characterised by significant mixed migration flows, or highly restrictive operational contexts.

  • Addressing barriers associated with travel to registration site:

    Extend registration activities to relevant provincial centers;

    Provide transportation services or pay costs associated with traveling to the registration site for certain individuals;

    Conduct mobile registration to bring registration to the homes, neighborhoods and community centers of refugees facing physical or other constraints, including, inter alia, older refugees, persons with disabilities, injured persons, pregnant or lactating women, those living too far from designated registration sites or dispersed across a large region. Mobile registration activities should also be conducted for persons in detention centers, hospitals or other institutions rendering them unable to travel.

  • Addressing barriers associated with the security of registering persons

    Ensure, through partners and other networks, that individuals marginalized within their own communities, including those with specific needs and other individuals at risk receive correct information about registration and are provided appropriate options for registering in a safe place and in a secure manner;

    Be mindful that registration activities make refugees more visible and may sometimes provoke negative reactions from the host community or authorities who are eager to ensure that refugees keep a low profile. UNHCR should ensure registration is conducted in a protection-sensitive manner that is appropriate for the context, taking account of the protection environment and social circumstances in which many refugees and asylum-seekers may find themselves;

    Communicate and engage continuously with local authorities to ensure they understand the legal basis and humanitarian reasons for registration, the benefits of population data for the host State and the principle that individuals should not be subject to arrest or other punitive action while traveling to the registration site;

    Work with host communities and advocate the importance of refugee registration, explaining the legal and humanitarian bases for doing so. The Office should understand how host communities regard the refugee community, and consider steps to mitigate any perceived or actual disadvantages of hosting refugees.

  • Addressing barriers associated with lack of information

    Identify, train and support community outreach volunteers who are able to keep in regular contact with different segments of the refugee community and to liaise with UNHCR;

    Establish telephone hotlines, temporarily extend office hours or set up communication channels enabling exchanges between UNHCR and/or partner organizations and vulnerable individuals aimed at identifying and resolving barriers to accessing the registration locations, information gaps and other issues;

    Engage and train border guards and other local authorities who may be unaware of the right to seek asylum, the principle of non-refoulement or the existence of UNHCR; discuss what role they may be able to play in orienting asylum-seekers towards UNHCR and other organizations.

  • Addressing barriers related to organizational capacity (State or UNHCR)

    Where the State authorities have undertaken to register some or all asylum-seekers and refugees on its territory, but capacity issues impede effective access to registration, UNHCR should, in general, work with government authorities to analyze and address the resource or capacity gaps, whether by suggesting techniques that may alleviate pressures11 or by offering operational support such as establishing joint, parallel or split registration processing according to an agreed timeframe;

    Backlogs and bottlenecks in UNHCR’s processing capacity can result in selective or delayed access to registration by asylum-seekers and refugees, giving rise to protection problems for men, women and children who may be denied rights, assistance and services associated with formal asylum-seeker or refugee status. In some contexts, capacity issues can result in certain refugee profiles being persistently deprioritized or even effectively barred from registration. Registration is a resource-intensive activity and there will often be financial, political, or other pressures that hamper the ability to conduct registration in full compliance with UNHCR standards and best practice. However, access to registration must never be arbitrary or random, and Offices should consider alternative measures before resorting to restrictions.

    Simplify or adapt the registration methodology including by:

    reducing the dataset: apply the data set recommended for registration in emergencies for a defined period of time.

    Implementing accelerated procedures such as providing provisional documents at the time of first contact with UNHCR, to be reviewed at a later stage.

    Outsourcing registration activities to a project partner;

    Providing one-off assistance to those awaiting registration to address protection and risks and assistance needs associated with processing delays;

    Building a pre-screening step into the registration process (in consultation with protection colleagues) in order to identify or prioritise individuals for registration based on protection criteria. This would normally only be appropriate in exceptional situations.12