Planning and Preparing Registration and Identity Management Systems
© UNHCR/Djerassem Mbaiorem
3.9 Setting up registration locations

Key messages

    • The location of registration sites must be safe, secure and accessible for staff and persons of concern.
    • The registration site is accessible if most individuals, including those with restricted mobility or specific needs, can reach the site without undue hardship or exposure to security issues, xenophobic incidents or other protection risks.
    • The presence of large groups inside or outside a registration location should be avoided as it can lead to security issues. Crowding outside a UNHCR Office in an urban environment can be particularly problematic in terms of protection risks for asylum seekers and refugees.
    • Staff briefing and testing of processes before a registration activity commences are critical to its smooth implementation.

Identify the registration site

  • There are four key areas for consideration when identifying a registration site: location, type and capacity of building, essential services and security.

  • The location of registration sites should be identified as safe and secure for refugees and staff. When selecting a location for permanent or semi-permanent registration centres in the field, consider the relevant standards for site selection for a refugee camp as a guide (e.g. 50km from the administrative border of the country of origin) and consult both UNHCR and local security advice. Temporary or emergency registration sites may, however, need to be situated closer to the border where refugees are located (e.g. transit centres, fixing and other initial activities). In all cases, registration sites should be located away from areas affected by armed conflict, insecurity and violence.

    The location of registration sites must also be accessible to the population targeted for registration, therefore within reasonable vicinity of their areas of residence, whether refugee camp, settlement or neighbourhood.37 The site is accessible if most individuals, including those with restricted mobility or specific needs, can reach the site without undue economic hardship or exposure to security issues, xenophobic incidents or other protection risks. In this regard, it is generally advisable to identify a site away from residential areas, as crowding and security can lead to protection risks for refugees in many cases.

    While there may often be a limited number of options regarding prospective registration locations, the views of women, men, girls and boys of diverse backgrounds should always be taken into account when considering the merits of different locations, especially in contexts where refugees are targeted for illegal entry/stay. Note that the safety and accessibility of the location selected will directly impact the extent of mobile registration activities required and/or the need for transportation to registration sites for certain individuals or communities.

    37 In the context of verification, location data already in proGres can be used to generate a map of where the target population resides.

  • The registration site itself may be a UNHCR Office, government building or other public site. Police stations and other law enforcement or security facilities are not generally appropriate locations in most contexts, with the possible exception of government-led registration activities. Suitable government or partner facilities for UNHCR registration may include for example, an empty school, an unused government building, a food distribution site or other community structure. In urban environments, and when numbers are manageable, registration is often conducted in the basement or annex of the UNHCR Office. If numbers increase, security and other concerns can arise and it is advisable to identify an alternative site. In emergencies or when necessary, a temporary site can be set up using, for example, a rub hall or an even simpler structure.

    Whether the building identified is constructed, re-purposed, borrowed or rented, it must be structurally sound, fire safe and in satisfactory physical condition. Consider the following essential requirements for an appropriate building or structure:

    • It is large enough to process the daily throughput expected, with a sufficient number of workspaces and buffer areas between process steps;
    • It accommodates a unidirectional process flow with separate entrance and exit locations;
    • There is adequate ventilation / climate control;
    • There is natural lighting (or lights can be installed);
    • The floor is solid and stable;
    • It is accessible for persons with reduced mobility such as older refugees or persons with disabilities (for example, ramps available for wheelchairs);
    • Electrical sockets may easily be installed;
    • It can be easily secured with fencing;
    • Separate waiting area(s) can be established away from the main registration area, whether by physical boundary such as a wall or rub hall tent, or through the use of roping, fencing or other means;
    • If the waiting area needs to be outside, adequate shelter from weather conditions can be provided.
  • Certain basic services and features are required in the registration building or structure to promote a dignified, efficient and protection-sensitive exercise. Rigging up curtains or screens and cordoning off areas by rope for use by certain persons (e.g. children, PWSN, etc.) can go along way even in the simplest of registration structures. Consider the following additional features for an appropriate building or structure:

    • Essential services that cater to the population size and their basic requirements, including:
      • appropriate sanitary facilities (separated from staff toilets);
      • potable water
      • first aid facilities (medical staff should be on site or nearby, ready to intervene if needed);
    • Dedicated protected areas for at-risk individuals or those requiring privacy, whether due to confidentiality requirements, cultural preferences or medical needs.
    • Where possible, a child-friendly play area (set up in such a way that children may access it without having to separate from their families);
  • Registration should take place in an environment that is safe for everyone and precautions must be taken against potential security threats. Relevant local authorities should be consulted on all aspects of site identification and the Field Security Advisor should be involved in layout design as well as security procedures, as appropriate. Refugees and asylum-seekers (especially women, LGBTI refugees and others most at risk) should also be consulted with regards to security threats at registration facilities and possible responses.

    Trained security personnel must have easy access to all areas of the registration location. In addition, where appropriate, security devices may be installed at reception desks (e.g. a noise-making device or “panic button”) to alert security staff in case of a threat. In some contexts, a physical barrier may be installed between reception staff and individuals approaching the reception window. In interviewing rooms, items that could be used as weapons must be removed. Staff should be seated closest to the door in order to enable an unimpeded exit if necessary.

    All registration locations must meet basic standards for fire prevention, detection and response and have an evacuation procedure in place in the event of a fire or other serious security threat or incident. A good evacuation plan is based on the regular procedures for packing up and leaving a registration site. Evacuation plans, routes, exits and procedures should incorporate arrangements for persons with specific needs and limited mobility. Staff rehearsal of evacuation procedures will help avoid confusion and panic in the event of a real incident. Security equipment including alarms, telecommunications, radios, and other alert systems should be checked periodically to be sure they are functional. Vehicles should always be parked pointing in the right direction and ready to move.

    The secure storage of registration materials and equipment must be assured: where the capacity for secure storage is limited by the type of structure used (e.g. rub hall), other measures should be taken to ensure valuable registration resources are safe, for example, by engaging guards at night.


Determine the process flow and design the site layout

  • Process flow

    The process flow refers to the steps in the process of the registration activity, depending on the objectives of the registration activity and the processing methodology chosen. A typical initial registration process flow in a refugee camp may include the following steps:

  • A typical continuous registration activity in an urban environment (e.g. UNHCR Office) may include the following steps:

  • Additional steps may be added to the standard process flow as required. For example, additional referral desks to adjudicate data issues, nationality verification or address other issues, health examination or vaccination stations, distribution of relief supplies or shelter materials, or any other context-specific requirement. See Module 3.5 “Key steps in the process flow” for guidance on the above process flow steps. Note also, depending on several factors including the scale of the registration activity, it can sometimes be more efficient to split the interview and biometrics steps.

  • When the necessary process steps have been determined, the Registration and Identity Management Officer should design the layout based on a scaled map of the registration site, ensuring a unidirectional flow through the site (see below). The layout should demonstrates:

    • the basic form and number of buildings/areas in the physical site (UNHCR office, rub hall, etc.);
    • an entry point and a separate exit point;
    • the scale and size of the area;
    • the number of work stations required at each step based on average processing times. Refer to data set guidance for average processing times for the registration interview step. Where biometrics is conducted separately from interviews, the general ratio should be 3 interview desks to 2 biometric desks (3:2);
    • how the referral of individuals out of/back into the process will occur without disturbing the process flow or creating bottlenecks;
    • the location of waiting or ‘buffer’ areas to ease pressures between steps;
    • the location of other features and services accommodated at the site, including for example, a child friendly play area, private areas or separate waiting areas as needed as well as an indication of where screens should be set up (or different rooms within an Office) to create confidentiality zones (see Essential services above);
    • the location of security personnel.

Limit crowding to mitigate protection and security risks

  • The presence of large groups inside or outside a registration location should be avoided as it can lead to security issues. Crowding outside a UNHCR Office in an urban environment can be particularly problematic in terms of protection risks for asylum seekers and refugees, and can result in restrictions on their physical access to UNHCR.

    The Registration and Identity Management Officer should develop contingency plans in the event of excessive crowding. Contingency planning may include, inter alia, reinforcing staff capacity or making last minute changes to the registration methodology in order to increase processing speed.

    More generally, consider the following preventive measures and good practices that mitigate the risk of over-crowding at the various stages of registration:

    • Establish multiple communication channels
      Effective and diverse communication channels enable refugees and asylum-seekers to communicate with UNCHR staff in different ways, reducing the need for people to physically approach the Office and wait to be served by Reception staff. Clear and repeated sharing of information about a given registration activity, beforehand and on the day is also critical for the smooth functioning of a registration activity and the orderly participation of individuals. 

    • Implement appropriate and flexible scheduling
      Registration scheduling must be informed by accurate calculations as to infrastructure capacity, staff capacity, and average processing time for the registration of a single family of average size in all seasons. In many operational contexts, the schedule should also be flexible enough to allow for technical, connectivity, staffing or other issues that may impact the schedule. Scheduling staff should be advised on the appropriate number of empty slots in the daily schedule to accommodate those who may approach the office with urgent security problems, protection risks, specific needs or other unforeseen issue requiring immediate attention. For more on scheduling, refer to module 5.

    • Ensure good organization and planning of reception areas
      Reception and other waiting areas should be informative spaces in which updates on waiting time and other information should be communicated on a regular basis and in multiple formats, whether via video, loudspeaker, through volunteers assisting with the process or other accessible means of communication. Waiting time should be made as comfortable as possible by providing adequate facilities. Ensure cases of disorderly behavior are addressed rapidly and resolved fairly. In large exercises, it is advisable to seek the assistance of a diversity of respected members of the community to monitor waiting areas, organize people into manageable groups, conduct general troubleshooting and identify persons who should be prioritized will improve the organization of reception areas. The use of tokens or other triage tool (to identify specific needs, those asked to return the next day, and others) can also mitigate tensions and discomfort. A complaint mechanism38 should be made available.

      38 See: Communication with Communities about Registration.

    • Conduct effective security checks at access/entry:
      The Registration and Identity Management Officer must ensure there is an appropriate number of adequately trained security personnel at the access point. Security staff should conduct basic security checks on individuals approaching the site to ensure no unauthorized objects enter the registration area. There should be clearly established procedures for managing the movement of people through the registration site and limiting the number of persons in the registration area at any one time.

Test processes and layout

  • Testing the process flow and layout design is imperative, preferably in real conditions, involving refugees and registration personnel. A dry-run in the actual location will demonstrate how well the process functions, identify bottlenecks and provide indications about the processing speed, tools in use and other aspects, which will in turn inform any staffing or other adjustments to be made. Relevant observations in the testing phase include:

    • Is the methodology and dataset workable for the registration conditions?
    • Are the tools working as expected? How to mitigate any technical issues?
    • Is processing time as expected for all steps? Are the buffer areas well located in the process flow?
    • Are questions asked in such a way that individuals provide the desired information easily, without the need to explain or repeat the question?
    • Are questions asked in a manner that is culturally appropriate and AGD-sensitive, and are staff using respectful terminology when communicating with individuals?
    • Where there are forms to fill, how long does it take, on average, for an individual or family to fill in the form?
    • Are there any gaps or unnecessary questions?

    Staff should solicit constructive feedback from refugees participating in the testing phase regarding their experience and any suggestions or complaints. Once the necessary adjustments have been made, the SOP should be amended accordingly.

    Ensure registration staff have all the necessary documents, instructions and key messages at their disposal. This includes inter alia SOPs, relevant proGres user guidance, a list of specific needs codes, any ‘screening’ or de-prioritization questions, instructions about when to refer an individual to the protection desk or other referral desk, and key messages and language for frequently-asked questions.

    Security arrangements and response plans should also be tested before implementation of the registration activity.

Staff briefing

  • A general staff briefing must be conducted for all staff involved in the registration process, from access to exit. The scope of the briefing will vary according to context, and may need to be followed up in daily or weekly briefings to touch on commonly occurring problems and trouble-shooting. In the context of continuous registration, training will primarily target newly recruited staff, while for specific or ad hoc registration activities, training for all staff involved will be required, based on the SOPs, process flow and registration layout. A briefing on data entry is critical, tailored to the relevant tasks, permissions and access levels of staff at the various stages of registration. Large scale registration exercises can be composed of hundreds of personnel carrying out various tasks and each step in the process flow will need to have a team leader with clear reporting lines and escalation procedures for oversight and integrity purposes, and to deal with questions and problems arising during the process that were not anticipated during the briefing.