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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder11. Population Estimation and Registration
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentOverview
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentPopulation Estimates
View the documentRegistration
View the documentKey References
View the documentAnnexes


· Registration provides the more detailed information needed for the efficient management of an assistance operation;

· Registration is carried out over several phases.


28. Protection and assistance can be provided more efficiently if it is based on the demographic information which can be obtained through registration. Registration may be required at different phases of an operation, for example: when there is a new refugee influx; when there is a voluntary repatriation operation (see chapter 19 on voluntary repatriation); at any time during an assistance programme to update information on the population, or to collect information on special groups e.g. unaccompanied minors (see the annex to chapter 10 on community services). The information below relates mainly to registration at the time of an influx or for updating.

29. In order to cope with large numbers it is preferable to separate the components of a registration exercise into six distinct phases, according to the immediate needs of the population and the time and staff available to carry out the task. Each phase should be viewed as an entity in its own right, but each leading to the next phase when circumstances permit.

30. The six phases of registration are:

i. Estimating the population;

ii. Planning the registration and informing the refugees;

iii. Fixing the population;

iv. Collecting information and issuing registration cards;

v. Computerization;

vi. Verification and updating.

31. The 'ideal' in registration is to work as closely as possible with the refugee population and its leadership, promoting community responsibility and participation in all stages of the process. Whilst this may not always be possible initially, it should be a major objective for both registration and camp management.

32. Formal registration requires considerable time and personnel resources and needs the active involvement of key partners to supply the necessary personnel. Key partners include government, other UN agencies, NGOs and the authorities responsible for security. Registration should only be carried out when:

i. The safety of the staff and of the refugees can be assured;

ii. The refugees accept the process;

iii. The key partners can supply personnel to help carry out the registration;

iv. There are sufficient quantities of registration materials and other equipment, including logistical support and communications.

Standard UNHCR Registration Materials

33. Standard materials for registration are stockpiled at Headquarters, and are sufficient to register 300,000 refugees. The materials include, for example, standard cards and forms, wristbands, fixing tokens, etc. These materials are included as part of a refugee registration package - see Appendix 2, Catalogue of Emergency Response Resources which has further details of these resources and how to obtain them.

Registration Phases

Phase 1: Estimating the population

34. This is the initial step to determine if there is a need for a full registration and/or to establish the planning figures for the registration exercise. It also provides working figures for the population for operational planning prior to the availability of more detailed population information.

Phase 2: Planning the registration and informing refugees

35. Designate a focal point to take responsibility for planning and executing the registration. A pilot registration in another camp can help identify potential difficulties. Planning should be a joint exercise with the concerned partners, including refugees. Staff training may be required at this stage. Ensure that the necessary staffing, equipment, supplies, security, telecommunications, vehicles and logistical support will be available on the date of the exercise. Decide on the level of information to be collected on a control sheet or registration form, and computerization.

36. At the same time as planning, there should be an intensive information campaign aimed at the refugee population at large (not just the leaders) informing the refugees of the procedures and benefits of registration.

Phase 3: Fixing the population

37. Give each individual in the target population a fixing token (see Annex 2) or wristband.

This defines and temporarily freezes the size of the group on whom more detailed information will be collected later. Without the fixing phase, registration will become a revolving door, open to escalating distortion and abuse. It must be done rapidly (preferably within a few hours, maximum one day) to avoid multiple and/or bogus registration. While the population may be given only short notice of when this will take place, it is necessary to ensure that they understand what is happening.

Phase 4: Collecting information and issuing registration cards

a) Collecting limited information on control sheets and issuing temporary registration cards

38. This phase (including issuing temporary registration cards) should be carried out before the next food distribution because the fixing token or wristband is not linked to verifiable information about persons in need, and cannot be used reliably for food and relief distribution.

39. Usually there will be no time to collect detailed information immediately, yet assistance should be distributed urgently and basic demographic data is needed. The first step therefore is to exchange the fixing token or wristband for a temporary registration card (also used as ration card - see Annex 2) to all heads of family, and collect limited information on control sheets (see Annex 3). In most instances this information will be limited to the name of the head of family, the size and age/sex breakdown of the family and the number of the temporary registration card, with an indication of any immediately visible vulnerable family members (see Annexes 4 and 5).

b) Completing registration forms and distributing of registration cards

40. The second step is to record detailed information about the families on Registration Forms (see Annex 4) and to issue long-term registration cards (also used as ration cards, the standard UNHCR card lasts about one year or 24 to 36 distributions). Where this is done immediately after the fixing phase (without the intervening step of temporary registration cards) there will be time constraints. Where it is done after the issue of temporary cards it can be spread over a longer period of time, with a cut off date for the validity of the temporary cards.

It is the Registration Form that constitutes the core document of a UNHCR registration and which will provide the basis for all future reference, analysis, verification and updating of the registration.

41. This phase provides a verifiable linkage between the identity of persons of concern and the very simple forms of documentation needed for processing large numbers of people for assistance distribution. The two-step process of information collecting is used because the second step can take considerable time, and registration information is needed in the interim for commodity distribution. It is particularly important in this phase to have personnel who speak the language and to ensure there Is a common code for transliteration between alphabets, particularly for names.

Phase 5: Computerization

42. Computerization can either start after registration cards have been distributed or at the same time if there are sufficient resources. Computerization is normally carried out using the "Field Based Registration System" (FBARS). Standard codes are used in UNHCR Registration Forms to facilitate the collection and input of data, particularly data on groups at risk (see Annex 5).

43. Data can be entered on-site by trained data-entry clerks or by out-sourcing to an off-site specialized data entry company. The data should be computerized as soon as possible and not more than a few months after being collected on the registration forms, otherwise it will be outdated and unusable.

44. FBARS can handle two types of registration, either by family unit (control sheet) or by individual (standard registration form). It also has a convoy management module which can be used during organized mass movement. It can be used by both UNHCR Offices and by Governments and implementing partners.

45. FBARS has easy-to-use search and report facilities and can produce information for planning, monitoring and reporting, for example:

i. Data on the numbers and rate of arrival;

ii. Data on refugee groups including on vulnerable groups;

iii. Data consolidated both regionally and globally;

iv. Food distribution lists;

v. Passenger manifests.

46. FBARS is available with the UNHCR registration materials (see above). The software and documentation are currently available in English, French and Russian. Information and support for the use of FBARS is available from the Information and Computing Services Section at Headquarters.

Phase 6: Verification and information updating

47. Registration information will need to be updated as the population changes with births, deaths and population movements. There should be a system to do this from the start. The registered numbers should be cross-checked with other information, for example, births and deaths can be monitored through the health services, and population movement monitored through any of the methods for population estimation described above.

48. Registration documents can acquire monetary value, especially if they are used to access assistance. There should be a system to check these documents, for example random verification at food distribution points to ensure the refugees are not using other people's documents or forged documents.

49. Verification is a continuous process, therefore routine verification, including house to house visits, at food distribution centres, etc., should become a standard, regular and frequent part of monitoring. Shelters should be given an address (section/block/individual shelter number) which will be linked to the individual family registration information.