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"Fotola" - Microsoft and UNHCR team up to better protect refugees


“Fotola” – Burundi vernacular for “photo” – was his only hope when he suddenly found his name no longer on the food distribution list meaning he was no longer eligible to receive food in the camp. Since having a picture taken is the most memorable part of a registration process which enters their details into UNHCR’s database, refugees here refer to the whole system as “fotola”.

Perfected and implemented by a team of UNHCR experts known as Project Profile, in partnership with software company Microsoft, the consolidated data system with photographs of each refugee allows the UN refugee agency to keep much more complete details of each refugee and his or her special needs.

Project Profile and the registration software program ProGres improve the way UNHCR staffers collect, share and use information on refugees and other persons of concern. The standardised system – replacing dozens of old, incompatible databases – grew out of a mobile registration system designed for the Kosovo crisis in 1999. It gives a more complete picture of the needs of individual refugees, as well as demographic information on camps, and the origins of refugees to help better plan for their return home.

Seventy Microsoft employees have so far volunteered their time and expertise to help Project Profile members set up the registration process in UNHCR camps in some 41 countries.