Implementing registration within an identity management framework
UNHCR / J. Kohler
5.3 Documentation

Key messages

    • UNHCR advocates for refugee ID documents to be issued by the national identification registration authority with the same design and specifications applied to identity documentation issued to nationals.
    • Only where there is no agreement from the government to use its logo should ID cards be issued with just UNHCR’s logo.
    • In addition, host governments should register the vital events of refugees and asylum-seekers occurring on its territory and issue the related documentation. This is most critical in relation to births, which should be systematically recorded within the national civil registry.
  • At  the end of the registration process, registered individuals should be issued documentation enabling them to demonstrate their identity and, as applicable, their refugee status or the fact that they have lodged an asylum application, or that they are otherwise of concern to the registering authority.

  • The issuance of identity documents for refugees is the primary responsibility of the government of the host state. In the framework of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) and of SGD 16.9 (legal identity for all), UNHCR advocates for documents to be issued by the national identification registration authority with the same design and specifications applied to identity documentation issued to nationals. Identity documents issued by national authorities ensure that the identity and status of refugees are formally recognized in the country of asylum, facilitating access to rights, protection, services and opportunities afforded to them as refugees.

    Where a host government is willing to issue refugee ID documentation but lacks capacity or resources to do so, UNHCR can provide technical and/or material support to enable the government to issue identity documents for refugees. The issuing authority remains the host government, with the government logo appearing on the ID document.

    In the context of joint registration, in which UNHCR and host government work in partnership throughout the whole registration process, with the broader aim of strengthening national registration and documentation systems and capacities, refugee identity documents may be issued jointly.  Where refugee ID cards are issued jointly by UNHCR and the host government, it remains preferable that only the logo of the government appears as the issuing authority, so that the document is, as much as possible, consistent with the design and appearance of documentation held by nationals and other legal foreign residents in the country. If necessary, both government and UNHCR logos may appear. If both logos are used, the government logo should be to the left and the UNHCR logo to the right, as this indicates that the government is the main responsible actor.

    Only where there is no agreement from the government to use its logo should ID cards be issued with just UNHCR’s logo.

    In addition, host governments should register the vital events15 of refugees and asylum-seekers occurring on its territory and issue the related documentation. This is most critical in relation to births, which should be systematically recorded within the national civil registry in accordance with relevant legal requirements.16 Birth registration by national authorities establishes the existence of a person under the law, and lays the foundation for the safeguarding of a person’s human rights throughout their life, including access to education, health care, work, banking, social security, as well as registering the births of their own children. Birth registration is also key to reducing the risk of statelessness. While birth registration does not by itself confer nationality, it does constitute important proof of where a child was born and who the child’s parents are, thus providing key information to assert the child’s right to nationality based on place of birth (jus soli) or of descent (jus sanguinis). Registration of births in proGres does not replace the official record made by the authorities in the country of birth.

    15 Including birth, adoption, marriage, divorce, death

    16 State registration of refugee and asylum-seeker births must include, at a minimum, the child’s name, date and place of birth and the names and nationalities of both parents.

  • 1. Identity documentation

    Where the host government is not in favour of issuing or co-issuing identity documentation to individuals registered by UNHCR, the Office should undertake to do so under its Mandate, with the consent of the national authorities.17 The purpose of identity cards or certificates issued by UNHCR is to provide refugees with a document that demonstrates their identity and refugee status according to UNHCR, which can in many cases facilitate contact with official actors and reduce related protection risks, including detention and refoulement. Such documents can also help refugees access services such as healthcare and education, and rights including freedom of movement and access to work.The Office should continuously work towards ensuring that UNHCR-issued identity documents are recognized and respected by the authorities, whether formally or informally. For example, providing law enforcement authorities or others the technical capacity to verify the authenticity of UNHCR-issued ID cards (e.g. scanning a SQR code) can strengthen their legitimacy and recognition even when not formally endorsed by the host government.18

    Consider the following recommendations related to the issuance and management of asylum seeker and refugee certificates issued by UNHCR:

    • Identity documents should be printed on secure paper (either from the DIRS stockpile or with design specifications shared with the Regional Registration and Identity Management Officer/DIRS to ensure consistency with UNHCR standards);
    • Identity documents should be recorded in proGres using the ‘Document’ entity;
    • SOPs should describe issuance and approval procedures for documents using secure paper, for example:
      • Secure paper should be controlled centrally by a focal point and issued accordingly sequence of serial number and tracked accordingly;
      • The serial number on the secure paper issued to each individual should be recorded under the ‘number’ field of the document record. This can be record by scanning the barcode directly into the field;
      • When a document is renewed, the serial number of the new secure paper should be recorded in the ‘number’ field;
      • Void secure paper (e.g. mistake in printing) should be discarded (shredded), and tracked as such;
      • UNHCR seals, stamps and secure paper related to document security must be securely stored when not in use, and there should be procedures that set out by whom and when they may be used (see the Fraud Vulnerability Checklist)
    • A UNHCR stamp should also be stamped on the signature of the approving Officer
    • For standard content and security features of UNHCR-issued documents, refer to the Annex, which contains revised global templates for refugee, asylum seeker and proof of registration certificates.

    ID cards, following, to the extent possible, the design, dimensions and content of national identity documents in the host country, are the preferred UNHCR-issued documentation in most contexts. This is because ID cards tend to hold stronger protection value than other forms of documentation, due to their particular format, security features and durability. However, in operations where the issuance of ID cards is not feasible, another form of identity documentation should be issued, including UNHCR refugee certificates, asylum-seeker certificates, proof of registration certificates or other letter or documentation attesting to the identity and status of the holder according to UNHCR. UNHCR should ensure that some form of individual identity document is provided to all asylum-seekers and refugees, regardless of sex or age. Note that UNHCR-issued identity documents should be distinct from UNHCR-issued entitlement documents, so that the former have value only to the persons to whom they were issued, making them less vulnerable to fraud. SOPs should set out the procedures for the issuance of documents and how this should be recorded in proGres.

    ID cards should be printed at the time of registration. However, if this is not feasible, they should be printed and distributed as quickly as possible and within three months of the date of registration. In the meantime, the persons of concern should have some type of provisional document which can be printed on either regular paper or secure paper.

    17 EXCOM conclusion 35 (XXXV) – 1984

    18 For example the ‘UNHCR verify-my’ application in Malaysia

  • 2. Documentation related to mandate RSD procedures

    In operations conducting mandate RSD, UNHCR Asylum-Seeker Certificates should be issued to all individuals applying for refugee status, and extended as necessary (pending final RSD decision). The validity period should be decided by the RSD Supervisor based on average processing times for first instance decisions in that operation, and should not exceed one year.19 UNHCR ID cards or refugee certificates are issued to all persons recognized under UNHCR’s mandate on an individual basis.20

    19 For further guidance on issuing certificates in the context of mandate RSD processing, refer to the RSD Procedural Standards.

    20 For general principles including form and procedures for issuing refugee certificates to individuals determined to meet refugee criteria under UNHCR mandate RSD procedures, refer to the UNHCR RSD Procedural Standards.

  • 3. Entitlement documentation

    Entitlement documents are usually issued at the family or group level. However, where assistance, benefits or services are provided on an individual basis, the corresponding entitlement documents are issued to all eligible individuals. In proGres, an entitlement document includes: bank cards, cash cards, entitlement cards, ration cards, tokens, vouchers or other document. An entitlement document may be a physical card or a digital or automated mechanism. UNHCR’s AGD policy provides that women and girls must have equal access to and control over management and provision of food, core-relief items and cash-based interventions.

  • Ration cards

    Ration cards may either be issued to one individual in a registration group or, more commonly, to the group as a whole. Unlike other entitlement documents, it is not possible to select several members in a registration group to be on a ration card. Standard format ration cards are available from the UNHCR stockpile. During a distribution activity, the ration card is presented at the biometric desk, biometrics are verified using the GDT (Global Distribution Tool), which is integrated with BIMS and proGres. If the identity is confirmed to be that of the legitimate ration card holder, the refugee proceeds to collect his/her assistance; if not the refugee is referred to the litigation desk. The names of designated food/assistance collectors can be modified in proGres over time as need be.

  • All ration cards contain the following:

    • Name/logo of agency issuing the document (two types: UNHCR-only or UNHCR/WFP, depending on agreements in place);
    • Numbers 1-16 in the middle indicating family size. A hole punch must be used to punch the right number. Each member of the family or group must be recognized and recorded as being part of the group entitled to the assistance. If an additional family member arrives, or a baby is born, or in case of any change – splitting, merging, change in family composition, the old ration card should be exchanged for a new card with the updated family size. The old ration card should be, destroyed and recorded as inactive, with the new ration card serial number entered in proGres.
    • Numbers 1-34 along the border, referring to distribution cycle. Distributions are usually conducted on a monthly basis, unless the beneficiary population is too large, in which case they may be conducted bi-weekly. In the context of monthly distributions, 1 indicates January, 2 indicates February, 13 indicates the following January and so forth. In the case of bi-weekly distributions, the numbers reflect the cycle (and not the month). Once the food is collected, the month of the distribution cycle should be punched. New arrivals approaching between distribution cycles should be entered into the next distribution cycle (with emergency food distributed for the number of days remaining until next distribution). If a distribution cycle is missed, the corresponding month should not be punched. Missed cycles should be identifiable and followed up by a Protection Officer. Food distributions are not conducted retroactively, and missed distributions cannot be accessed.
    • Letters A-G referring to non-food items, each letter referring to a package, not an individual item. For example, if the standard Core Relief Item package is being distributed, ‘A’ means all items in this distribution;
    • A unique barcode revealing the unique ration card number when scanned. The ration card number must always be recorded in the group proGres record.
    • The back of the ration card is blank and features two writing panes where the cardholder’s name and/or proGres number may be written manually.

    In line with an AGD approach, an operation may decide, in consultation with refugees, partners and protection colleagues, to issue all entitlement cards to the women in the household. In any event, female heads of household must be listed as a food/assistance collector. In polygamous households, each spouse should be registered separately in order to have her own ration card for herself and her children.

    SOPs should set out criteria and procedures for replacement as well as the processing of entitlement documents in each operation. Ration cards do not have an expiry date; they are exchanged when a correction has to be made on the family size, or when all numbers have been punched or if they have become illegible due to wear and tear. If lost, ration cards can be replaced and updated in proGres, while the old cards must be inactivated. It is recommended to use the re-issuance of entitlement documents as an opportunity to revalidate registration information and assess the needs and situation of persons of concern. Invalidated ration cards reappearing at distribution should be confiscated.

  • As already mentioned, refugee ID documents should be issued by the host government, ideally according to local specifications for national ID cards. In contexts where this is not yet in place, UNHCR may produce and issue ID cards under its mandate. Some key considerations for operations planning to produce and issue ID cards include:

  • 1. Who should be entitled to an ID card

    The operation must determine, in consultation with the government as appropriate, the target group for ID cards, namely, whether all persons of concern should be issued cards or if cards should only be issued to refugees. Due to budget considerations, UNHCR-issued ID cards are usually only provided to refugees. However, in some cases it may be appropriate to issue ID cards to other persons of concern such as asylum-seekers, in light of the protection context or other operational exigency.

    The operation must also determine the age limits for the issuance of ID cards. To meet UNHCR standards, as a minimum all adults (18 years and above) must be issued an individual ID card. If nationals in the country are issued ID cards from a younger age, such as 16 years, the operation should adopt the same age limits. Age limitations will reduce the number of cards to be printed and thereby the overall cost. However, where there is a protection value in issuing ID cards to young children (for example, if no birth certificate is issued to refugees in the host country), then UNHCR should do so. Otherwise, a procedure needs to be in place for issuing cards to individuals who reach the age limit.

    Whatever parameters are decided upon, ID cards (as with all UNHCR-issued identity documents) must be issued to men, women, and where applicable, boys and girls on an entirely equivalent and equal basis.

  • 2. Design features and information on the card

    The design of the ID card should be determined by each operation,21 together with the host government. Bear in mind the following general standards:

    → Size and durability

    ID cards normally have the following specifications: PVC composite with the dimensions: 85 x 54 x 0.76 mm (the size of a normal credit card). These cards have a general durability of five years.

    → Security features

    To reduce the likelihood of forgery, ID cards must contain security features such as hologram lamination and UV logo, in addition to the photo and biographical details. Extra security features may be added as appropriate to the operational context, for example, to allow electronic reading of the ID cards. Depending on the type of additional security feature, the printing time of each card may be increased.

    UNHCR stockpiles blank ID cards, ID printers, rolls of UV hologram that is laminated onto each card.

    → Information to be printed on ID cards

    On the front of the ID card, the following personal data should be printed in CAPITAL letters in an easily readable font:

    • Type and title of identity document
    • Name and logo of issuing authority(ies)
    • General statement of rights associated with the document
    • Unique document number
    • Given name and family name
    • Sex
    • Date of birth
    • Photograph of individual
    • Date of issuance and expiration

    → Information not recommended to be printed on ID cards

    In general, it is not recommended to indicate on an ID card any information which could lead to discrimination, such as an individual’s ethnicity.

    As the card is an individual ID card, it is recommended not to put any group-related data such as registration group number, ration card number, family size, or data relating to family members on the ID card. Group-related data changes over time, making it necessary to revise and re-issue ID cards for all members of the group if group details change.

    For similar reasons, it is generally not recommended to feature address information on ID cards, since new cards would need to be re-issued each time a person moves to another address, adding to costs and administrative burden.

    → Language on the card

    The text on the ID cards is recommended to be both in the local language and an official UN language, to be agreed with the host government. If the host government requests personal data fields to be printed in the local script, soft fields should be created in proGres to achieve this.

    → Static and non-static information on the card

    To facilitate batch production of blank cards, speeding up the printing process and lowering the production costs, it is advised that:

    • the front of the card, which would be in colour, shows all non-static information, such as the customized information for the individual, the name of the card (e.g. refugee card), name(s) of issuing authority and logo(s), and

    • the back of the card can be printed in black and white, and contain only static information such as standard text and general information like explanatory notes and expiry date or period of validity.

    Refugee signatures are not a standard requirement. If, in a given context, a (scanned) signature of the bearer of the card is required, this would be non-static information, and should, therefore, preferably be printed on the front of the card.

    → Issuing authority and logo

    Ideally, the logo of the State (or concerned State ministry, as relevant) should appear and not that of UNHCR, reflecting the ultimate responsibility of the State in refugee protection. If an Office considers it necessary and appropriate, the UNHCR the logo can be used. Note that UNHCR enforces strict rules regarding the use of its logo, as outlined in UNHCR’s Brand Book.

    If the cards show both Government and UNHCR logos, the Government logo should be to the left and UNHCR to the right. This configuration indicates that the Government is the main responsible actor. The same applies to Government and UNHCR digital signatures, which should be printed on the back. In countries using a script written from right to left the position of the logos should also be inverted.

    Here is a table of all the elements recommended for refugee ID cards:

    21 ID card design and corresponding agreements with the government on other aspects such as issuance, distribution and cancellation should be cleared by the Legal Advisors of the respective Regional Bureaux. The methodology of card production should be cleared by the relevant Regional Registration and Identity Management Officer or the Digital Identity and Registration Section in HQ (DIRS).


  • Elements Place Governments Govt. & UNHCR UNHCR
    Name of the card (e.g. "Refugee Card")
    Name of issuing authority/ies
    Logo (Government)
    Logo (UNHCR)
    Front ✓ (Optional)
    Signatures (Government)
    Back ✓ (Optional) ✓ (Optional)
    Signatures (UNHCR)
    Back ✓ (Optional) ✓ (Optional)
    Signatures (Bearer of card)
    Preferably on front ✓ (Optional) ✓ (Optional) ✓ (Optional)
    Expiry date
    Individual registration number
    Family name
    Given name(s)
    Date of birth
    Date of issue*
    Front ✓ (Optional) ✓ (Optional) ✓ (Optional)
    Front ✓ (Optional) ✓ (Optional) ✓ (Optional)
    Front ✓ (Optional) ✓ (Optional) ✓ (Optional)
    Magnetic strip
    Back ✓ (Optional) ✓ (Optional) ✓ (Optional)
    Explanatory note
    Hologram lamination
    UV logo
    Front ✓ (Optional) ✓ (Optional) ✓ (Optional)
    Card Serial Number*
    Front ✓ (Optional) ✓ (Optional) ✓ (Optional)
  • * The date of issuance or a unique card serial number is important to distinguish between multiple cards for the same person e.g. in case a card is lost and a new card is issued.

  • 1. Card validity period

    The length of the validity period is decided by the operation, in consultation with host governments. In some contexts, it may be appropriate to follow the national standard for validity relating to ID documents. In others, the operation may choose to establish a shorter validity period in order to be able to verify the population more frequently. In this case, the validity period should not be so short as to be burdensome on the population.

    Where cards are issued to asylum-seekers in an RSD context, their validity should reflect the average duration of the RSD procedure.

  • 2. ID card issuance, re-issuance and cancellation

    SOPs should describe the process for issuance and re-issuance of ID cards . The operation should have clear procedures on how to process and dispose of the old cards that have been withdrawn.

    In case of loss or theft, the old ID card should be inactivated in proGres. The lost or stolen card can be distinguished from the re-issued card by the date of issue, date of expiry or if the card has a unique card serial number, this number can be used to record which document should be inactivated.

    With regard to secure storage, SOPs should set out procedures relating to controlled access to ID card materials, identifying the staff member(s) accountable for the blank consumables and how and where they are stored. All consumables must be centrally managed, stored and transported in a secure environment. Refer to the Fraud Vulnerability Checklist to ensure basic preventive action is taken to avoid misuse or theft of ID card materials and data. The cards can be printed either by the Government or by UNHCR.