Planning and Preparing Registration and Identity Management Systems
© UNHCR/Shawn Baldwin
3.1 Understand the context

There is no single method for conducting registration as no two operational contexts are the same. The protection, security or political context may demand a differentiated methodological approach for different population groups, including within the same country operation. Understanding the operational context is the first step to developing or revising a registration approach that effectively supports and advances the protection of asylum-seekers and refugees in a particular country. Such an analysis should comprise:

→ An assessment of the operational environment, its constraints, opportunities and specificities;

→ An evaluation of registration processes and standards currently in place, and

→ An analysis of registration gaps through internal and external stakeholder consultation.

Understanding context helps operations to see where they stand today, to identify where they need to go in the future and to plan a roadmap for getting there.

Key messages

    • Understanding the operational environment is the first step in developing or revising a registration approach.
    • The overall quality of registration can be improved by evaluating existing processes to identify problem areas and gaps in light of registration objectives.
    • Refugees and asylum-seekers must be at the center of decision-making that affects their lives, their protection and their well-being, and should be consulted directly in registration planning.

Assess the operational environment

  • Asylum-seeker and refugee population

    What is known about the asylum-seeker and refugee population? Which nationalities have sought asylum in the country and in approximately what numbers? Understand why and from which regions they have fled, where they have settled in the country of asylum, and whether they intend to seek asylum. Ascertain from protection colleagues and other relevant actors the physical and psychological state of the refugee population(s) in order to help understand protection and assistance needs. Consider the extent to which the population to be registered is characterized by mixed migration, the possible presence of fighters or other particularity, and how these considerations need to be factored into the registration strategy and processing methodology.

  • When establishing registration activities for the first time, it is important to consult all relevant colleagues (including Information Management, Protection and Field Officers), partners, government authorities, UN Agencies, NGOs and others as relevant, to gain a good working estimate of the size, composition and location of the population prior to registration. Estimates can often be made from partial registration data or estimations from the host government and other sources, including border monitoring tools, existing humanitarian programmes, partner referral and self-referral. Limited information can be extrapolated for the entire population; for example, age and sex breakdowns for a small segment of the population can be used to estimate these statistics for the whole population.

    Depending on the context, the process of getting to know the population to be registered can occur through a registration scheduling activity. For example, NGO and other service providers approached by the population of concern may take the contact details of persons wishing to register with UNHCR, or share a UNHCR hotline, SMS or email address. All requests can be consolidated in one pre-registration master log to guide planning. Timeslots for registration can then be allocated according to processing capacity, as well as by geographical area.

  • Legal framework and political context

    Is the country of asylum a signatory to the 1951 Convention and/or regional instruments on refugee protection? What other legal protections and systems exist in the host country that function to protect and manage asylum-seekers and refugees on the territory? Relevant considerations in this regard may include the extent to which international or regional instruments related to refugees are generally adhered to in the country of asylum, whether any special approach is taken in relation to a particular population or group, including prima facie declaration, temporary or complementary protection or other approach, and whether an encampment policy is in place for some or all refugees. Indicate whether registration activities are carried out by the host government or UNHCR and whether refugee status is recognised under the law. Broader considerations of the legal and political context that are relevant to registration include, inter alia:

    • the extent to which data protection and data privacy laws and technical capacity exist, and how they permit or restrict UNHCR’s sharing of data / access to data;

    • the refugee population data collected by host authorities (or requested of UNHCR) and the purpose it serves;

    • initiatives to strengthen civil registration (CRVS) systems;

    • laws related to birth registration for foreign nationals;

    • how nationality laws function to enable or restrict the passing of nationality to children;

    • developments in immigration and visa rules.

  • Regular evaluation of the laws, policies, and institutional capacities in the host country will help situate UNHCR in an evolving national context, ensure approaches are in line with national developments, highlight the changing constraints and opportunities and facilitate an ongoing assessment as to the interest and/or capacity of host government authorities to assume some or all registration functions over time.

  • Protection environment

    Evaluating the protection environment involves an assessment of the extent to which the basic rights of asylum-seekers and refugees are protected not only in law but as well in practice. Key considerations in this regard include whether all refugees and asylum-seekers are admitted into the country of asylum and protected against refoulement, the capacity of national laws, government entities and humanitarian actors to provide effective protection and assistance and the level of acceptance of refugees and asylum-seekers by the local population.

    A related concept is the notion of ‘protection space’, which refers to the extent to which the rights of individual refugees are respected, and their needs met in a given context or space1. Protection space is a more subjective notion that looks to the experiences of refugees in their everyday encounters in the country of asylum. Protection space may expand and contract periodically according to changes in the political, economic, social, and security environment. Protection space cannot be measured with any degree of scientific precision, but can be assessed in a qualitative manner on the basis of certain indicators. These include the extent to which refugees:

    UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR Policy on Refugee Protection and Solutions in Urban Areas, September 2009, available at:

  • Are threatened (or not) by refoulement, eviction, arbitrary detention, deportation, harassment or extortion by the security services and other actors;

    Are provided with identity documentation recognized by host country authorities, including birth documentation, and whether vital events are documented and registered;

    Enjoy freedom of movement, association and expression,

    Enjoy the right to family unity;

    Have effective access to livelihoods and the labor market and are protected from exploitative treatment by employers, landlords and traders;

    Enjoy adequate shelter and living conditions;

    Have effective access to public and private services such as healthcare, education and social services;

    Enjoy harmonious relationships with the host population, other refugees and migrant communities; and,

    Are able to benefit from comprehensive solutions in the country of asylum or a third country.

  • Evaluating the general protection environment for asylum-seekers and refugees in a country is a highly context-specific exercise. The protection space may be more favourable for certain nationalities than for others, depending on a range of social, cultural, political, regional, economic and national security considerations. Liaising with protection colleagues will help ensure a clear and nuanced understanding of the protection environment for all population groups, and inform the registration methodology and other aspects of the registration approach (e.g. scheduling, documentation or possible prioritization of particular groups or nationalities) in the country.

Evaluate existing registration processes and standards

  • Given that registration is the first – and in some cases the only – point of contact with UNHCR for all refugees, it is critical that the registration process is equipped and supported to collect accurate and representative data on the population of concern. Only through registration processes can UNHCR and its partners obtain a reliable, accurate and up-to-date account of the population: who they are, where they are and what their needs are.

    To improve data accuracy and the overall quality of registration, it is important to evaluate existing processes to identify problem areas and gaps, take stock of resources and adjust registration priorities and objectives accordingly, including the need for training. Such an evaluation is essential when designing a new registration strategy or approach, however, should also be conducted on an ongoing basis in a continuous registration context. Below is a tool to support such an evaluation.

  • Registration should Some key questions to prompt gap analysis Registration Standards/ Further Resources
    Aim to realise an articulated goal or vision in light of opportunities and constraints in the operational context
    • What is the long-term goal(s) or vision for the registration function in your operation? see chapter 3.2
    • What has been the overall registration experience of the operation, has there been previous analysis on pro/cons, or gaps?
    • What are the opportunities and constraints in the operational context with an impact on registration?
    • COP, Protection and solutions strategy, registration strategy / SOPs
    Reflect global, regional and national priorities, trends and standards
    • What are the regional priorities, harmonized approaches and standards relating to registration and identity management?
    • What protection and programme goals are supported by registration?
    • Do all Offices in the country operation capture the same minimum data set for the same population group?
    • Regional and country operations documents
    • Registration Standards (2nd ed.) D: Personal data to be gathered and recorded
    Collect reliable, quality data, particularly for the identification and referral of Persons with Specific Needs to services
    • Who are the primary internal and external users of UNCHR data? Are all available protection and assistance actors/services for refugee and asylum-seekers mapped and understood? Conduct a “5W” (who, what, where, when, why) mapping of registration data needs and uses.
    • Is data considered sufficiently reliable for its intended use in case management, protection interventions and programme goals? If data is not reliable enough, what could be a solution? (data cleaning, training, capacity-building and supervision, continuous registration?)
    • Is data considered sufficient for the needs of all key service providers? Could additional data elements meet the needs of a wider network of actors to expand the protection space?
    • Does the data collected allow for persons with specific needs (PWSN) to be identified and referred for intervention and follow-up?
    • Are follow-up actions and interventions carried out by other functional units updated and reflected in proGres (or other case management tool)?
    • Are biometrics used to improve efficiencies in identity management, assistance and distribution activities?
    • Protection strategy/ registration SOPs
    Ensure access for all refugees and asylum-seekers and facilitate strong protection outcomes
    • Do communication activities including information campaign effectively increase awareness of and access to registration?
    • Does the operation have the tools or methods to identify persons who may have difficulty accessing registration?
    • What is the scheduling methodology? Are there online or other mechanisms that could be more effective?
    • Are PWSN always identified and prioritized?
    • Are appropriate staffing and other arrangements made available for women and children?
    • Is mobile registration conducted for those unable to travel to registration site?
    • Does registration capacity meet demand without excessive waiting periods or restrictions?
    • What kind of documentation has been issued, to whom and for what purpose? Do documents provide an adequate measure of protection?
    • Registration Standards (2nd)A: Access
    • Registration Standards (2nd) B: Process of Registration
    Be conducted in an efficient, accountable, fair and transparent manner
    • Is data collected by the government shared with UNHCR? Is data collected by UNHCR shared with the government? Are there duplications that could be avoided?
    • Are there duplicate registration mechanisms in place with other agencies or partners that should be resolved through improved information sharing?
    • Are data sharing agreements (DSA) in place with all stakeholders requiring access to registration data?
    • Are individuals informed through a clear consent form of all the actors their data may be shared with for assistance and protection purposes?
    • What is the current admissibility criteria for registration, and what procedural safeguards are in place to ensure access to international protection?
    • Are screening or pre-screening procedures in place for registration (fighters, host country or third country nationals)? Are these measures necessary and proportionate?
    • Are registration Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) available and regularly updated and shared?
    • Are individuals registered within a period of 3 months?
    • What communication and complaint mechanisms are in place?
    • What anti-fraud mechanisms have been established?
    • Are adjudication cases being resolved by protection colleagues?
    • UNHCR’s Data protection Policy and Operational Guidelines
    • UNHCR’s Policy on Maintaining the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum and Operational Guidelines
    • UNHCR’s Policy on Addressing fraud committed by persons of concern and Operational Guidelines
    • Registration Standards (2nded.) A: Access
    Be collaborative and consultative amongst all relevant stakeholders
    • Are government, community groups and partners consulted when planning registration?
    • Are there effective referral mechanisms in place enabling communication between UNHCR, partners and refugee volunteers on PWSN and other registration-related issues?
    • Have mechanisms been established to facilitate ongoing dialogue and feedback between UNHCR and refugee communities?
    • Are there duplicate registration mechanisms in place between UNHCR and other agencies, NGOs how we need to engage other actors and arrange suitable information sharing? E.g. registration by NGOs or other UN agencies for assistance
    • Registration Standards (2nd)B: Process of registration
    • UNHCR’s Policy on Accountability to affected populations and Operational Guidelines
    Consider existing and necessary resources and personnel capacity
    • What is the current size, staffing and resources of the offices? Are they adequate and appropriate for the scale of the activity and the registration methodology applied?
    • Are there capacity challenges that could be addressed by engaging government actors and other partners or experts?
    • What initial and on-the-job training is in place to build the capacity of staff? Is it sufficient? Is it based on current staff performance and competency?
    • Registration Standards (2nd) B: Process of registration
    • UNHCR staffing benchmarks

Analyse registration gaps through stakeholder consultation

  • Consult the refugee and asylum-seeker population

    Refugees and asylum-seekers must be at the center of decision-making that affects their lives, their protection and their well-being. In order to understand the challenges they face in their daily lives, and to avoid actions that could inadvertently leave them worse off, it is essential to consult people directly: listen to them,identify their priorities, draw on their knowledge and provide them feedback.2

    The degree of consultation in the gaps analysis and planning phase will also likely influence the overall level of acceptance, trust and participation by the refugee population in the registration process, and help inform expectations around what the process intends to achieve for the population.

    In order to ensure an Age, Gender and Diversity (AGD) approach and consult a cross-section of the refugee community, it is recommended not only to engage refugee leaders, but also a range of community representatives, community leaders and other individuals who play a role in the community.

    See UNHCR’s Policy on Age, Gender and Diversity:

  • Who to consult?

  • The established refugee leadership are key partners for registration staff in the planning, organizing, trouble-shooting and implementation of registration activities. Working in partnership with the refugee leadershipalso acknowledges in a formal way their status and responsibilities within their community. Partnerships can consist of official committees or informal, structured relationships. Irrespective of the nature of the partnership it is important to establish:

    • Clear goals and priorities;
    • Well-defined working relationships, including levels of responsibility and autonomy; and,
    • A clear understanding of UNHCR’s core values and principles, including its Age Gender Diversity (AGD) policy, Code of Conduct, and duty to respect the standards set out in the Registration Standards.

    For consulting leaders in a camp context, see: Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC), Camp Management Toolkit, May 2008, available at:

  • When engaging in the community, it is important not to rely solely on contacts with individuals who are easy to reach, such as visible leaders. If information sharing and consultation are restricted to only elected representatives (who are often male), it can reinforce discrimination and exclusion and does not amount to consulting the community. If not already known to registration staff, community representativesmay be reached with assistance fromrefugee outreach volunteers or though community-based protection colleagues in the field. Such individuals may or may not be elected representatives of their communities, and should represent a range of different groups, including marginalized or under-represented groups.

    Such individuals or committees may be activists, health workers, school teachers, or ethnic, religious or youth leaders, or other persons who are respected amongst their peers, represent diversity and are able to articulate the interests of the community they represent as a whole.

  • Community consultation can be carried out though a variety of approaches depending on the operational context. Focus group and other types of structured or semi-structured discussions can be one effective way to engage a diversity of groups and interests within a population. Such discussions can reveal important dynamics in the refugee community that are relevant to improving registration activities, including those relating to:

    • Refugee leadership structure and style;
    • The most effective communication methods and tools to reach all groups in a population; including vulnerable or isolated individuals;
    • Social, religious, economic, physical, logistical, educational or other factors that may obstruct access to information as well as registration for some;
    • Fears or sensitivities related to the protection environment or host population in the country of asylum;
    • The reasons people have for not wishing to register.
  • What to consult about?

    The overarching goal for consulting persons of concern in the context of registration planning is to achieve equality of access and full participation in the activity, as enshrined in UNHCR’s policy on Age, Gender and Diversity. With this in mind, some key issues for consultation with community members, community representatives and the refugee leadership include, inter alia:

  • Invest time explaining the overall purpose of registration in terms of the protection, documentation and access to assistance it offers in a given operational context. Where a specific registration activity such as a verification is foreseen, explain the underlying situation giving rise to the need for the activity, so that the community understands why it should happen and how it will impact (or improve) their daily lives:

    • underline that registration provides each individual a unique and enduring identity record which can be critically important to proving their identity both during and following displacement.
    • emphasize the link between registration data and the development of adapted protection responses, interventions and programmes, whether by UNHCR or partners.

    Explain the rights, obligations and benefits that come with registering, as well as the risks associated with failing to register.

  • Consult widely on the proposed location of the registration sites, and seek views on how feasible the prospective sites are for most people to access. Individuals may be widely dispersed, leading to a range of logistical considerations and barriers to access. What would be a preferred location? How could barriers be reduced for persons living too far from proposed sites, or those with reduced mobility such as older persons, pregnant women, small children and persons with disabilities? Discuss what role the community could play in facilitating access by persons with specific needs.

  • Note that some individuals may not feel safe to approach the registration site out of fear for their safety (for instance, in certain contexts, LGBTI persons, high ranking ex-officials, or individuals at risk of SGBV). Ascertain who these individuals may be and discuss how the registration process may accommodate their protection needs.

    Identify broader concerns such as the need for some or all refugees to maintain a low profile in the host country, or fears and misinformation about the reason for, or impact of, the registration activity on the rights of refugees. Develop registration arrangements and messaging that address concerns of the target population and provide people with the information they need in order to decide for themselves whether to register.

  • Consult concerned individuals on planned modalities for prioritized processing for persons with specific needs, and invite feedback on variations or adjustments to better meet the needs of those individuals.

    More generally, discuss how the process of registration could be improved to better accommodate all individuals? Explain the process flow and processing time and seek inputabout what kind of features could be added to the registration site to facilitate registration. Depending on context, it may be necessary to compromise or prioritize between children play areas, prayer or private spaces and other requests based oncultural norms or practicality.

  • Ensure that the timing of registration interviews do not conflict with assistance distributions or other major activity, and avoid scheduling during major religious/cultural celebrations where possible. Ask the community what kind of lead time is necessary for the information campaign to ensure all family members receive information and are able to plan for their participation in the registration activity.

  • Understand which dialects and languages are spoken in the refugee community and whether there are additional cultural factors including with respect to gender, that staffing decisions should take into consideration regarding translators and registration staff. Ascertain what staffing implications there may be in respect of assisting persons with specific needs and expanding activities to enable dispersed populations to be registered.

  • In order for community consultation to be meaningful, the dialogue should continue throughout registration processes, especially in stable, continuous registration contexts. Here is more guidance on communication in the context of registration, and highlights the importance of information, dialogue and feedback as a foundation for improving registration outcomes.

  • Consult government and other partners

    In certain operational contexts, government authorities – local, district, provincial, national – are active stakeholders in registration; in others, they may not be. Where appropriate, engage government counterparts in a gap analysis on issues of concern to them, and identify together possible solutions or improvements.

    It is important to engage protection actors and other partners on registration gaps, including those relating to access and the protection impact of documentation. This consultation process can be facilitated by providing partners with a form or other referral tool through which they can communicate input, suggestions and concerns to UNHCR.

    Consulting both the government authorities and operational partners on evolving data requirements is essential to ensuring UNHCR registration activities continue to serve the data needs of key partners, removing the need for duplication of data collection activities.

  • Consult the host community

    It is preferable, and in some contexts necessary, to consult the host community. There may be a need to actively gain the acceptance and cooperation of local communities and their leaders, particularly where UNHCR provision of assistance and protection may be seen as discriminatory or a threat to the local economy.

    To mitigate any perceived or actual negative effects of registration, consider the following actions:

    • Inform and consult the local community on registration plans;
    • Include and involve local authorities in the planning including by requesting use of government facilities for registration;
    • Make registration-related job opportunities available to members of the local community (assistants, security, screeners, etc.);
    • Keep in mind that, in some contexts, members of the host community may seek to register as refugees in order to receive assistance. Members of the host community do not come within UNHCR’s protection mandate and are not admitted to registration procedures. If assistance is provided to host communities, explain the particular modalities for access.
    • If assistance is not provided, discuss with authorities and community representatives what measures UNHCR could take to help alleviate or compensate for hardships faced as a direct or indirect result of the refugee situation.

    The key issues, gaps, opportunities and constraints that emerge as a result of a comprehensive context analysis should form the basis of a registration strategy that articulates a roadmap for how registration expertise, innovations and activities can lead to stronger protection outcomes for refugees and asylum seekers in a country of asylum.