The 10-week exercise, the largest such operation the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has ever been involved in, began on Sunday and runs until the end of the year.The UN is both supporting and monitoring the process, which will collect bio-data, fingerprints and digital photographs. “This is the largest-ever registration by any host country of a mixed population in a protracted situation,” said Indrika Ratwatte, UNHCR’s Assistant Representative in Pakistan. “UNHCR has been assisting the Government in the planning and execution of this undertaking for over two years, and we hope it will further strengthen the asylum space for those Afghans in need of international protection.”The registration is a follow-up to a Government census last year that counted 3.04 million Afghans who arrived in Pakistan after the 1979 Soviet invasion and are still living in the country.More than 580,000 have repatriated since then, leaving an estimated 2.5 million Afghans in Pakistan. Only those counted in the 2005 census are eligible for registration, which will grant them a proof of registration card, valid for three years, which recognises them as Afghan citizens living in Pakistan.UNHCR is helping the Government to raise the 6 million needed for the exercise. Afghans are the largest group of concern to UNHCR, and the majority of them are hosted in Pakistan.Besides the sheer scale of the exercise, its first challenge is convincing eligible Afghans, many of whom apparently fear the photographs would be sent to the United States, to register.To register, entire Afghan families must approach designated centres in the same area where they took the census and then the names of heads of household have to be checked against the census database – a particular challenge because of the almost countless ways Afghan names can be spelled in English.The UNHCR hopes that the information collected – including areas of origin, education and skill levels, special needs and intention to return – will help it find “durable solutions to this protracted situation,” an agency spokesperson Ron Redmond said last week.