Communicating with Communities about Registration
© UNHCR/Duniya Aslam Khan
4.3 Information campaigns

An effective, broad-based information campaign is critical to the success of any planned registration exercise, whether initial registration, verification or other ad hoc activity.

Initial registration may be the first official procedure that new arrivals experience in the country of asylum; many people targeted by the activity may be unfamiliar with UNHCR and its mandate, and the reasons for registration may not be well understood. Amongst already registered refugee populations, some individuals and communities may have no regular contact with UNHCR, and may be uninformed about verification or other registration activities that concern them without targeted communication efforts and outreach. In order to reach all members of the target population, an information campaign must be designed through a participatory approach and implemented in a way that speaks to everyone, including marginalized groups and individuals at risk.

Planning an information campaign

  • The Registration and Identity Management Officer1 plays a central role in the planning of the information campaign, including achieving agreement with management, protection and other relevant functional units on the key process, technical and logistical aspects that will be later developed and nuanced through consultation.

    Once the key elements of the activity have been approved and confirmed, the Registration and Identity Management Officer should establish a timeframe for the planning phase and implementation phase of the information campaign.

    1 Here as throughout, “Registration and Identity Management Officer” denotes the staff member responsible for registration, which may be the Protection Officer where no Registration and Identity Management Officer position exists in the operation.

  • Timeframe for Planning an information campaign

    Depending on context, a timeframe should be developed to ensure all necessary consultations can take place between the stakeholders on key issues before the information campaign is implemented. Allocate the necessary time for:

    • Consulting government counterparts on the registration plan, in order to address issues relating to, inter alia, timing, location, available government resources (infrastructure, technical, staffing, security), and the type of documentation to be issued. The nature and duration of such consultations will depend on the level of engagement in registration activities on the part of the government;
    • Consulting relevant partners, for instance, where other interventions are to be linked to the registration activity, such as vaccinations or distributions;
    • Consulting members of the target population on information needs and communication channels. The appropriate duration for community consultation will be context-specific and depend on the size and diversity of the target population as well as the complexity of the messages to be developed.

    Note: Following the consultation phase, allow the necessary time before implementation to:

    • negotiate and conclude agreements with companies to be engaged during implementation of the campaign (e.g. media, telecommunications and software companies);
    • develop a harmonized communications approach among partners, and
    • conduct testing of campaign messages and methodologies.
  • Consulting members of the target population in the planning phase allows UNHCR to:

    • Share initial information on the planned activity

      Registration staff should introduce the planned registration activity (or, if the government is taking the lead, support government officials in doing so), providing available details even if only approximate at that stage (e.g. time, place, who will be concerned, what the process will involve, why it should take place and the expected results in terms of protection). In line with an AGD2 approach, share specific or differentiated information according to the requirements of the individuals present (e.g. indicate specific processes for unaccompanied and separated children when sharing information with youth; discuss the possibility of house visits when sharing information with older refugees, etc.);

      2 Age, gender and diversity. Through its AGD approach, UNHCR seeks to ensure that all persons of concern enjoy their rights on an equal footing and are able to participate fully in the decisions that affect their lives and the lives of their family members and communities.

    • Determine information needs to be met via the information campaign

      Ascertain what different groups have understood regarding the initial information provided and what they want to know more about. Be sensitive to unrealistic expectations,3 misinformation or fears associated with the registration activity. Concerns presented should be listened to and addressed through the development of clear and succinct messages for the information campaign. Some issues may be complex and require UNHCR staff to take note of the concerns raised and return to the discussion following consultation with colleagues or partners.

      3 For example, in contexts in which a significant part of the concerned population is preoccupied with the prospect of resettlement, be sure to communicate widely on the rights, benefits and limitations associated with registration in the operational context.

    • Seek input on developing messaging for the information campaign

      Facilitate discussions with people from different backgrounds on the best ways to communicate key registration messages. Ensure language and formats are culturally appropriate and take account of overall literacy levels, the diversity of languages spoken and relevant images that represent the underlying messages. Be aware of other factors having a bearing on the design of messaging in a given context, for example, informal registration terminology4 used by the population. Ensure that any translation of information is meaningful and responds to the information needs expressed by the different communities.

      Consider mentioning local terminology in parenthesis, for example: “Bring your UNHCR registration certificate [UN paper]” where UN paper is the term used by a population in their language.

    • Determine appropriate communication channels to be used in the information campaign

      Appropriate communication channels will take account of several factors, including the communication preferences and behaviours within the target population; the complexity of the information to be shared as well as available budget and resources for implementation. Preferred communication channels often vary depending on age, social group, ethnic background, literacy and education levels, familiarity with and access to technology, gender, religion, disability or other characteristic, and can change over time. In line with an AGD approach, consult a diversity of groups on the ways in which they access information, including those who live in geographically isolated areas and those who face other barriers to information. See here5 for a guide to community consultation on preferred and trusted channels of communication. The channels selected must:

      • Be acceptable to the target population
      • Use multiple formats, including written, oral and pictorial forms
      • Meet diverging information needs
      • Reinforce the credibility of the messages communicated
      • Reduce the risk of information control and manipulation

      It is recommended that the information campaign be designed in such a way that a majority of individuals receive the same (or similar) information via at least two different channels: (e.g. through focus group discussion and UNHCR noticeboard, or via UNHCR social media page and radio announcement), to allow for the possibility that one channel was not heard or understood.

      It may be useful to refer to this table of common communication methodologies when identifying preferred channels in a given operational context.

      Information and Communication Needs Assessment Tool, developed by UNHCR Innovation Service; Assessing Information and Communication Needs, a booklet published by Communicating with Disaster-Affected Communities (CDAC), available at:

  • Community consultation during the planning stage should result in the development of:

    • agreed messages that address the information needs, concerns and sensitivities and of the target population, and
    • approved communication channels that are accessible, effective and far-reaching.
  • Keep colleagues and partners informed

    The Registration and Identity Management Officer may also consider developing standardized messages for staff to refer to in the event they are asked registration-related questions in the course of their interactions with the refugee population. Furthermore, depending on the presence of other actors in the operational context, it may be useful to conduct an information briefing with partners in order to promote a harmonized communications approach between UNHCR, the host government and other partners in relation to the registration activity.

  • Test the information products

    Once key messages have been developed and translated, it is critical to test all information products with men, women, boys and girls in the target population prior to deploying them in the information campaign. No presumptions should be made about how clear the information products are.  Ask different people within the target audiences how they have understood information products targeted to them, making sure that no supplementary information is required in order to fully comprehend the messages. Ensure the language and images are perceived as neutral, respectful and reassuring.

  • Checklist for the planning phase of an information campaign

    Agree on key elements of the registration activity within the Office (resources, timing, etc.) and validate a timeline for planning and implementation of the information campaign;

    Share key elements of the information campaign with government and/or other registration partners for consultation and input, as necessary;

    Present the planned registration activity for input by members of the target community through several different forums that reflect the diversity of the communities concerned. Develop differentiated registration messages that clearly explain the activity and address information needs, and choose together a plurality of channels to communicate those messages, strengthening understanding, cooperation and participation by the broader target population;

    Conduct testing of all information products with men, women, boys and girls in the target population prior to deploying them in the information campaign.

    Develop standardized messages for UNHCR staff, government and partners to promote a harmonized approach and reduce uncertainty regarding key messages.

Implementing an information campaign

  • Timeframe for Implementing an information campaign

    The appropriate timeframe for implementation will be context-specific, depending on factors including:

    • the size of the population;
    • the geographical area the campaign needs to cover;
    • the complexity of the messages to be communicated;
    • the expected demand for counselling and clarification at the individual and community levels;
    • the time required for people to plan for their presence at registration;
    • available budget.


    In a stable registration context, it is recommended to allow at least a month for the implementation of an information campaign. For ad hoc exercises like verifications covering a dispersed or mobile population with limited access to communication channels, the timeframe will be longer, taking into account the availability of populations to receive the information.

  • General information to be communicated in an information campaign

    The information campaign6 should be nuanced and respond to the diversity of information needs identified during consultations. At the same time, the Registration and Identity Management Officer needs to ensure that everyone has access to the same essential information about the registration process and its implications, in order to safeguard the principles of voluntary participation, informed consent and data subject’s right to information. The following list covers the main areas to be communicated in this regard, as appropriate, depending on the activity and operational context in question.

    6 To be developed in consultation with relevant functional units as appropriate e.g. the Child Protection Unit on messaging relevant to children, the Protection Unit on messaging related to legal framework, specific needs and so forth.

  • Introduction to UNHCR

    • Where appropriate, provide introductory/general information on UNHCR’s role, ethics and services.



    What is registration?

    • What does registration mean? Explain the process of registration and its protection purpose in the specific context, i.e. documentation, assistance and solutions.
    • What benefits are associated with registration? Describe the links between registration and protection/assistance in the particular operational context. For example, what document(s) will be issued, what rights the documentation allows access to (e.g. protection from refoulement, education, labour market, SIM cards, banking and mobile financial service providers, targeted assistance).
    • Who conducts registration? Explain the role of the host government and UNHCR; in the case of registration conducted by partners, make clear that partners are working on behalf of UNHCR.
    • Registration is voluntary. Explain that registration is not obligatory. Those who elect not to be registered may, however, face barriers to accessing protection, assistance and solutions. Mention the specific risk of refoulement, if applicable.
    • Registration and related activities are free of charge. Emphasize that no one should pay money or provide favours or services in exchange for registration-related activities.



    What is a registration group?

    • How is a registration group to be formed? Explain who should register together in a registration group (often context-specific), for example, nuclear family members, extended family members or certain non-blood relations as well? Advise whether an individual can choose to register alone or if he/she should register as a member of his/her family.
    • What is a registration group focal point? Explain this person has no particular role or responsibility in the group, it is necessary only to give visibility to the relationships within that registration group.
    • Explain how individuals should present themselves if their registration group has changed since last contact (marriage, divorce, etc.). There may be a variety of context-specific scenarios and questions in this regard that should be addressed in detail.



    Pre-conditions for being registered:

    • Who is to be registered (i.e. what is the admissibility criteria)? Clearly articulate who the target population is and the reasons for any restriction e.g. requirements of the host government, operational reasons necessitating that other groups be registered during a separate exercise, etc.
    • What happens to those who do not meet pre-conditions for being registered? Information related to this question may be context-specific. Generally, the only individuals not admitted to registration procedures are fighters and host country nationals (see: admissibility criteria). Provide further information, depending on context, including that the family members of fighters may still register, etc. Indicate whether host country nationals need to present for registration with their refugee family members.
    • Only individuals seeking international protection outside their country of origin may access registration with UNHCR, therefore host communities should be reminded that they cannot register as refugees. Information about assistance programmes for host communities must be very clear so that people know they will not be left behind by not registering.



    Access to registration location, opening hours and scheduling:

    • What is the start and end date of the exercise and daily opening hours?
    • Where are the registration locations? In non-camp settings, produce a simple map/ illustration of registration locations using show well-known landmarks.
    • What are the means through which individuals can request registration interview appointments?
    • How will camp-based refugees be scheduled and how will they be informed of their interview date?
    • Explain important features of the registration location e.g. existence of child-friendly areas, what will be provided for individuals in terms of water, protection from elements, toilets, the possibility to cook/buy/ eat meals, separate waiting areas for men and women, if applicable, etc.



    Procedures for absentees and others:

    • What, if any, measures will be in place for individuals who cannot come to the registration point due to illness, specific needs or other valid reason? Indicate plans for provision of transport, home visits, mobile registration, etc.
    • What allowances will be made for those who do not attend the registration on the day they are scheduled? Explain grace period, and how to register following this period.
    • If applicable, explain registration process for persons in detention. Address other context-specific scenarios such as students studying in other locations, individuals in hospitals or clinics, etc.



    The basic steps in registering:

    • Explain that all individuals in a registration group should present themselves together at the registration activity. Inform individuals about what they should do if this is not feasible i.e. Available members should still present for registration, members of the registration group who cannot attend registration will be able to register later, see procedures for absentees and others.
    • Clearly explain alternative procedures for persons with specific needs. Indicate what kind of specific needs may be relevant in this context and how concerned individuals may make themselves known in order to benefit from prioritized processing.
    • Indicate what documents individuals should bring.
    • Indicate the key steps in the process, including registration interview, potential use of an interpreter, identification of specific needs, biometric enrolment, documentation issuance.
    • Specify whether individuals will be interviewed individually or together. If interviewed together, indicate that persons can speak privately to UNHCR staff upon request.
    • Clearly explain the purpose, benefits and process of biometric enrolment.
    • Advise how long each registration should take. Provide a visual map of the process to facilitate an understanding of the number of steps involved and the time required.
    • What will individuals receive at the end? Documentation, vaccination, distributions, etc.



    Confidentiality, data protection and consent

    • Confirm that all personal data collected will be stored confidentially by UNHCR.
    • If applicable, inform individuals that basic bio-data will be shared with the host government.
    • Confirm that personal data will not be accessible to country of origin governments without the express consent of individuals concerned.
    • Explain that UNHCR may request consent from individuals to share their personal data with partners for the purposes of protection, assistance and solutions interventions. Individuals may refuse consent to share personal data with partners. Explain any impact this may have on access to assistance or other intervention.



    Refugee Status Determination (RSD)

    • Depending on the operational context, it may be necessary to provide information about the RSD procedure and how it is related to the registration process.



    Complaint mechanism:

    • Explain how individuals can access a confidential mechanism for communicating complaints relating to misconduct by staff or others during the registration process, including requests for payment, favours or services. Explain the mechanism emphasizing its confidentiality, provide information about how complaints will be dealt with and by whom, and whether and through what means individuals can expect to receive individual feedback.
    • Explain how individuals can report other difficulties in accessing registration procedures.



    Anti-Fraud message

    • Recall the obligation of all individuals to provide truthful, complete information at all stages of the process.
    • Recall the potential consequences of failing to provide truthful and complete information to UNHCR, which may include case processing delays and/or ineligibility for certain benefits or solutions.
    • Define fraud in accessible language and provide examples of the main types of registration fraud. Fraud related to identity (e.g. providing false identity data, multiple registrations); misrepresentation of personal circumstances (e.g. specific needs, socio-economic circumstances); family composition (adding or concealing persons or misrepresenting family relationships); documentation (e.g. presenting false ID documents as true, fraudulent use of UNHCR or joint UNHCR/Government-issued identity or assistance documentation).
    • Recall that certain initial representations are rendered permanent through biometric enrolment. Explain how individuals can correct information provided at registration which they later realize was erroneous or inaccurate.
    • Recall that citizens of the host community  are not admitted to registration. Doing so in a fraudulent manner can lead to a range of unintended consequences in terms of accessing rights as a citizen, and can create a risk of statelessness.



    How to obtain further information or clarification

    • Indicate the time and place of future information meetings on registration processes as well as opportunities for “Q and A” and individual counselling.
    • Explain the main communication channels in use.
  • Communication channels

    Below is a table of communication methodologies commonly used in UNHCR operations. Be sure the communication channels selected make full use of existing networks. In particular:

    → Collaborate with refugee outreach volunteers and others who can be trusted to relay accurate information to their respective communities. These individuals must be carefully briefed beforehand to ensure their own questions are answered and any uncertainties clarified. Effective community focal points play a critical role in informing their communities, answering questions, encouraging participation and reining in unrealistic expectations. Follow-up meetings between UNHCR staff and focal points are indispensable for feedback relating to what they see and hear in the community, as well as the sharing of revised, updated or last-minute information.

    → Work directly with existing refugee organizations including community leaders, local religious figures and refugee committees to ensure they understand key aspects of the information campaign and are transmitting accurate information to their communities.

    → The information campaign should target the informal networks and meeting points used by different refugee groups, such as schools and other child-friendly spaces, health care structures, workplaces, local community centres and religious institutions, in order to promote the sharing of information via everyday social exchanges.

    → Host communities and organizations7  offer critical support to asylum-seekers and refugees in many contexts, and should be involved in the relaying of messages as appropriate.

    7 Such as LGBTI organizations.

  • Type of communication Communication channel Examples When to use
    General announcement
    Mass/bulk mailing
    • Bulk email, SMS or smartphone application such as WhatsApp8 for general information messages addressed to many individuals.
    • Mailing or other distribution of flyers in areas of high concentration of target community including, schools, health centers, market places, community centers
    In all settings where a certain proportion of the target population has affordable access to a mobile phone or smart phone, there is a good phone signal and UNHCR has capacity to negotiate agreements with mobile phone provider.
    Mass media
    • Newspaper messages
    • Radio announcements
    • Television advertisements
    In all settings where a certain proportion of the target population has affordable access to mass media
    UNHCR website,
    platform or social media
    • UNHCR-hosted website for refugees with regularly updated information and evolving FAQ.
    • Official UNHCR social media page.
    In all settings where a certain proportion of the target population has affordable access to a smart phone or computer.
    Local public announcement
    • Roving car speaker
    • Town hall-style public meeting, including Q & A
    Roving car speaker is appropriate for many refugee camp settings, whereas townhall meetings may be more suitable for urban contexts. Especially useful where refugees prefer oral communication channels. Audio methods should be combined with printed material.
    Visual/audio methods
    • Animation videos
    • Theatre or sketch performances at events or gatherings
    Videos can be useful in community or reception centres in urban contexts, especially where refugees prefer oral communication channels (including those unable to read and understand written materials).
    Written/ pictorial methods
    • Leaflets, flyers and large format posters posted in areas of high frequentation by target population. Posters must use strong contrast colors, dark print, simple typeface and be complemented by pictorial explanations.
    In all settings. Print methods should be combined with audio methods.
    Detailed or specific information exchange
    Refugee focal points
    • Trusted community interlocutors including known volunteers, outreach workers and community leaders
    In all settings; especially useful for quick and accurate dissemination of information in both directions, including to communicate last minute changes or problems.
    Meetings with smaller groups
    • Focus group discussions (FGD) (especially with women)
    • Meetings with refugee committees, refugee leaders
    • Meetings with local religious figures
    • Meetings with trained refugee liaison workers and volunteers
    In all settings; meetings with community members are best conducted in multi-functional teams.
    One-to-one communication
    Face to face or other forms of individual contact
    • Individual counselling
    • Information desks
    • Telephone helpline
    • Confidential complaints mechanism.
    • Use of individual email address for specific queries or feedback
    • Refugee focal points/ interlocutors
    In all settings; be careful to limit individual communication channels according to the Office’s capacity to respond.

Monitoring the information campaign

  • Information is typically transmitted within a community through word-of-mouth, and the spread of incorrect information or rumor can be swift and far-reaching. It is essential, therefore, to closely monitor how the information campaign is being interpreted by the target population. This is often done best through the mobilization of trained volunteers and trusted community focal points who can report rumors and uncertainties to UNHCR as well as address misinformation or confusion they come across within their communities. This does not, however, replace the need for staff to be present in the different communities – listening to concerns, answering questions and reinforcing key messages.

    Some information products may on occasion need to be revised or adjusted based on feedback, observations and monitoring, for example, to address critical questions or unforeseen concerns that emerge from the different communities. The information campaign may or may not need to carry on throughout the registration activity itself; this too can be determined based on monitoring the campaign as well as evaluating the level of participation in the registration activity and the presence of any unforeseen problems or confusion during the registration process.

    Free communication applications such as WhatsApp can be highly vulnerable to fraud and misuse. Operations should seek advice from the data protection focal point and Senior Regional Registration and Identity Management Officer when considering such methods.