Planning and Preparing Registration and Identity Management Systems
© UNHCR/Andrew McConnell
3.2 Design a registration strategy

Key messages

    • A strategic approach to registration requires that registration activities be aimed at realizing an articulated goal or vision for registration which is appropriate to the specific context and which reflects operational and regional priorities, and global standards.
    • Developing an annual or multi-year strategy for registration enables operations to define and articulate the purpose of registration activities as part of a longer-term strategic vision or goal for registration.
    • An ad hoc registration strategy facilitates planning, resourcing and implementation of a specific registration activity or series of activities. A good ad hoc strategy is solutions-oriented as well as flexible, able to adjust to delays and other changes and interruptions.

What is a registration strategy?

  • Registration strategies may be time bound, i.e. annual or multi-year, or ad hoc in nature.

    An annual or multi-year strategy is high level and forward-looking document that articulates a vision for registration in the country. It must be aligned with the operation’s protection and solutions strategy and should reflect relevant operational and regional priorities linked to registration. This type of strategy is strongly recommended in operations conducting large-scale, complex or otherwise significant registration activities.

    An ad hoc registration strategy is a planning document that guides the preparation and implementation of a specific, often large-scale, registration activity. This type of strategy is strongly recommended in emergencies, and will often be necessary for proper planning and implementation of verification exercises or any significant new approach or large-scale activity.

    Regardless of whether or not an operation has an annual or multi-year registration strategy5, all registration activities should be planned and conducted in a strategic manner. A strategic approach to registration requires, at a minimum, that all registration activities should be aimed at realizing an articulated goal or vision for registration that is appropriate to the specific context and which reflects operational and regional priorities, standards and trends.

    In operations where registration activities are such that there may be no need for a dedicated strategy (e.g. low and stable numbers, favourable protection environment, all registered persons submitted for RSD procedures), registration objectives may be embedded within the operation’s protection and solutions strategies. In such cases, there must be a specific registration component in the strategy.

Drafting an annual or multi-year registration strategy

  • Developing an overall strategy for registration enables UNHCR operations to define and articulate the purpose of registration activities as part of a longer-term strategic vision or goal for registration. Without a clear notion of vision or ‘destination’, it is difficult to set a roadmap for registration, and harder still to identify milestones that help measure the distance covered.

    There is no required form for an annual or multi-year registration strategy. However, the below offers a general structure and the main elements of a standard strategy.

  • The registration context analysis outlined in Chapter 3.1 should form the basis of the introduction to the registration strategy. This section should summarise:

    • The operational environment7;
    • Existing registration processes and standards;
    • Key registration challenges identified in the gaps analysis.

    An operation’s Protection and Solutions Strategy is a key document in this regard.

  • This section of the strategy should provide a clear, realistic statement of the longer-term vision that the strategy aims to achieve in the country. A vision must be founded on a critical assessment of what registration can achieve in a context, and how it can most effectively contribute to advancing protection outcomes for asylum-seekers and refugees. The vision will be context-specific, though some operations may look, for example, to improving compliance with UNHCR’s Registration Standards relating to access; others may look to ensuring registration data can be fully leveraged to support the range of interventions in an operation, or others again may look to advocating for refugee documentation as a foundation for the formalization of legal identity. In sum, the vision should articulate the greater role registration can play in strengthening the protection impact of an operation.

  • Once the vision is agreed, the changes needed in order to achieve the vision need to be identified. These changes should be articulated as strategic objectives. They must be measurable and achievable within a set time frame. For long-term objectives, it is advisable to set milestones to allow interim assessment. The validity of strategic objectives can be tested by the following formula:

    “if [strategic objective 1] and [strategic objective 2] and [strategic objective 3] (etc.), then [vision] will be achieved.

    Strategic objectives for registration will need to be translated into concrete activities through the operations planning process. This involves an evaluation of the extent to which existing activities serve the strategic objectives, and whether/how they could be adapted, expanded or complemented.

  • A timeframe and geographical area for the implementation of key registration activities should be set out, allowing for an overview of planned interventions throughout the duration of the strategy. This may be revised and adapted according to changes in the operational environment, including the risks and assumptions set out below.

    Set out the proposed methodological approach for each population group:

    → The registration strategy should account for all population planning groups. Where a particular population is not to be registered, the reasoning should be explained and alternative processes set out in the strategy;

    → Indicate whether one registration approach can be applied to all population groups or if each population requires a differentiated approach in light of the protection environment, the commonality or divergence of data needs, operational capacities or other relevant factors;

    → Where there is more than one population group of concern and more than one registration approach foreseen, the registration strategy should specify the different groups and indicate the corresponding processing methodologies to be applied and documentation to be issued(further elaborated in the SOPs). Differing approaches may include:

    Merged registration – RSD;

    • Registration for RSD or other case management process
    (in which relevant additional data elements may need to be recorded);

    • Registration in the context of groups suspected to contain fighters among them
    (in which a screening step may be advisable);

    • Registration in the context of mixed migration;

    • Government involvement in one or more steps in the registration process;

    • Mobile registration and other unconventional approaches.

  • The overall registration strategy will be based on certain general assumptions. Set out prevailing risks and assumptions in the operational environment, and revisit the strategy should circumstances change significantly. Having a clear view of the risks will help UNHCR remain flexible and able to adapt to evolving circumstances. Risks and assumptions may relate to, inter alia:

    • Conflict and possible triggers for refugee influx;
    • Political environment in country of asylum: elections, political trends, political (in)stability and security environment
    • Legal, policy and administrative framework related to the exercise of the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees.
    • UNHCR staffing and financial resources
    • Prospect of return or availability of other durable solution
  • When the strategy has been drafted, a validation process must take place in which the strategy obtains buy-in from protection and other colleagues, and approval from senior management as to the vision, objectives, timeframe and areas of intervention. This process will provide the necessary Office-wide endorsement and ensure the strategy is aligned to other existing strategies and approaches.


Drafting an ad hoc registration strategy

  • An ad hoc registration strategy is a document to facilitate planning, resourcing and implementation of a specific registration activity or series of activities. A good ad hoc strategy is solutions-oriented as well as flexible, able to adjust to delays and other changes and interruptions. Such a strategy may be structured as follows:

  • Present the operational environment within which the proposed registration activity will take place. Define the population to be registered, its size and areas of habitation, as well as related challenges, obstacles or opportunities. Refer to the broader strategy if one exists, drawing on aspects of the context and gap analysis therein that help explain why the registration activity needs to be conducted, how it will address gaps identified and what benefits it is expected to yield for the refugee population.

  • UNHCR’s role in registration depends on the objectives of the specific operation as well as the relationship with, and capacity of, the host government. UNHCR’s role can range from capacity-building, oversight, and monitoring to design, implementation and maintenance of a registration system.

  • In countries where UNHCR conducts registration under its mandate, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) should be in place, where possible, setting out the division of responsibilities between UNHCR and the government with respect to registration. In particular, an agreement should be concluded where the government issues or approves identity documents for registered individuals.

    UNHCR should engage the Government positively in registration strategizing: consider the objectives, interests and concerns of the host State in order to engage appropriately with government entities and staff as key stakeholders. Strengthening State capacity as part of this partnership through the sharing of technical expertise, tools and resources as needed can increase the involvement of government authorities in registration over time.

  • Refugees have a key role to play in the planning and implementation of registration activities that concern them. Successful registration activities need refugee assistance in a range of areas, from trouble shooting and identifying gaps to communicating, scheduling and organizing the registration process from the community side, anticipating challenges and identifying groups or individuals who may need special assistance to participate in registration activities.

  • In registration operations where the World Food Programme (WFP) is an operational partner, ensure close consultation during the planning process and in implementation. The MOU between UNHCR and WFP specifies that registration activities should serve to identify beneficiaries for food and related non-food items. Ensure registration objectives support this goal.

    Where a project partner conducts registration on behalf of UNHCR, a Project Partnership Agreement (PPA) will regulate the parties’ roles and responsibilities with respect to registration as well as data sharing. A data sharing addendum to the PPA may be drafted.

    An MoU or LoU (Letter of Understanding) with operational partners may be concluded in relation to specific aspects of registration collaboration, including in the area of data sharing. Where there is no formal agreement between partners, an informal understanding can take the form of agreement on Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

  • This section should articulate the purpose ofthe specific registration activity. The purpose should be expressed using protection language and be aligned with protection objectives articulated in the overall registration and/or protection strategies.


    • The purpose of the present verification exercise is to establish accurate and reliable data for the purposes of delivering protection including through documentation, case management and identifying specific needs and durable solutions profiles.
  • If there is a specific population group to be targeted, define that population here (to be more exhaustively defined under admissibility criteria in the SOPs). The target population will be determined by the purpose(s) of the activity indicated in above section.

  • The objectives of the specific registration should speak to specific registration needs and gaps that aim to be addressed through the registration exercise. The objectives, when met, will help achieve the stated purpose of the registration activity.


    • Provide protection against detention and refoulement through the issuance of identity documents.
    • Provide access to health, education and other government services through provision of asylum-seeker certificate.
    • Identify persons with specific needs and facilitate access to protection interventions.
    • Generate reliable distribution lists in order to strengthen accountability of assistance delivery.
  • Ensure the timeframe takes into account foreseeable constraints that have the potential to impact the schedule of the registration exercise. Such constraints include:

    • Weather – the rainy season, when possible, should be avoided, since this can limit access to registration locations. Where registration structures are rudimentary, periods of extreme temperatures are also to be avoided, where feasible. In rural contexts, be aware of periods of intense agricultural activity such as planting and harvest seasons.

    • Calendar – Be aware of public or religious celebrations and try to avoid large registration activities in times of heightened alert (national or local elections, security curfew).

    • Security – Registration activities must not put anybody at risk. Request additional security if this is sufficient to secure the registration sites and access routes. Do not plan registration activities in insecure locations.

    • Capacity – Inexperienced staff may take longer to achieve expected processing capacity. Equally, low literacy or high trauma levels amongst the refugee population may impact registration processing times.

    • Identity management challenges  – Low prevalence of identity documentation in the refugee population may require a more in-depth interview to record identity and family relationship and other core information. In the context of local populations mixing with the refugee population, nationality screening may be required as part of the registration process.

    • Connectivity and electricity  – What are the connectivity, power, technical and systems requirements for the activity? Ensure the power source can produce a stable supply of electricity, and assess the extent to which the severity of environmental conditions will impact the proper functioning and longevity of computer systems. Ensure the required technical infrastructure is in place to support connectivity requirements. Consider these issues as well when preparing mobile registration activities.

    • Staff absences  – Anticipate public holidays and staff requests for sick leave and other unforeseen absences. Where the timeline is particularly long, staff are likely to need breaks, rotation to other duties, R&R or vacations.

  • Describe the case processing methodology(ies) to be applied in the registration activity. The main steps in the process flow may be briefly set out here in narrative form, to be exhaustively elaborated in the SOP. The methodology may, depending on the objectives of the activity, include some or all of the following steps:

    • (fixing, movement and scheduling if applicable)
    • Access/ waiting area
    • Intake/ admission
    • (Litigation desk)
    • Interview
    • (Protection desk)
    • Biometrics
    • Quality control
    • Documentation

    Indicate any additional special procedures foreseen, including on the spot interventions for persons with specific needs, including fast-tracking or specialised counselling.

  • This section should point to elements in the process that are designed to mitigate registration fraud and the prevalence of inconsistencies. Such measures may include use of biometrics to anchor/ verify identity, interviewing techniques and observation, a well-staffed litigation desk with capacity to follow-up on inconsistencies or fraud allegations, daily audit checks and clear lines of staff accountability and oversight. Indicate how staff training and the information campaign address the question of fraud and corruption and communicate UNHCR’s zero tolerance approach.

  • This section summarises the work plan and key outputs required for the full preparation of the specific registration activity(ies) to which the ad hoc strategy refers. It is useful to set out in a graphic timeline the chronological order of the tasks to be achieved, indicating which tasks can be completed in parallel, including, inter alia:

    • Preliminary meetings with colleagues from Admin., Programme, Supply, Security, Human Resources and Procurement, as relevant, to discuss planning, logistics and budget;
    • Meetings with Protection and Programme colleagues and external partners to determine their data requirements, discuss involvement in referral mechanisms for PWSN and other relevant issues;
    • Conduct feasibility assessments at proposed registration sites:
      • Technical – power supply, network, cabling;
      • Infrastructure – availability of existing structures/ possibility to refurbish an old structure for required intake capacity, protection from elements, confidential interview spaces, other specific requirements;
      • Security – security of staff and of population to be registered, security of premises and equipment;
    • Determine available budget, define human resources, tools and materials required
    • Determine documentation type and validity;
    • Initiate procurement processes, logistical arrangements and human resources in collaboration with Admin and Supply;
    • Define the data elements to be collected and specific needs codes9 to be used based on consultations;
    • Develop SOPs
    • Information campaign
    • Scheduling
    • Site preparation
    • Set up proGres, BIMS and other systems
    • Conduct trainings for all personnel involved in registration activity
    • Conduct a dry run of registration activity to test process flow, registration form, functionality of equipment, security procedures and evacuation, etc.
    • Completion, reporting, auditing

    IOM-FOM/030/2009 Guidance on the Use of Standardized Specific Needs Codes, 19 June 2009

  • Determining the resource requirements for an activity calls for a detailed breakdown of all required items with a financial implication. This section in the strategy should give a brief narrative description of all staffing, material resources and finances10 required, together with a budget summary based on a clear timeframe for roll out. The full budget, containing all items to be purchased and other expenses is to be attached to the strategy as an Annex.

    Remember that some staff and materials may already exist and can be made available from the operation itself or from other operations without incurring extra expenditure. Governments and other partners are often able to contribute substantially to registration activities, including by way of provision of staff, materials and other requirements. Resources that can be made available in this way should be explained in the narrative and not appear in the budget.

    Expenditures for registration activities should be closely monitored. Changes to the timeline or methodology will normally result in changes to the budget. Adjustments should be brought to the attention of the appropriate managers so that unspent balances can be returned or additional funds requested in advance.

    In general, registration activities are budgeted and financed within the normal UNHCR programming cycles. It is imperative to liaise closely with Admin. and Programme colleagues to gain a clear understanding of budgets, budget formats and procedures.

    10 For example, cash may be needed for urgent local procurement, payment of certain workers, and any unforeseen needs.