Population register in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Are we there? Yet?

A policy brief by Lejla Kamenjas and Nermin Oruc, September 2013


INTRODUCTION Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a potential candidate for EU membership, which implies that it is responsible for developing institutional and legal capacities to comply with the requirements set in the Copenhagen criteria. This, among other criteria, includes improvements in statistical capacities, as specified in the chapter 18 of the Acquis. Considering the importance of monitoring migration flows in BiH there is a rising need for creation of comprehensive database containing information on migration, which would respond to the demand of policy makers in BiH, as well as requirements for reports on migration specified by the EUROSTAT. In order to monitor migration flows effectively and to develop appropriate migration policies, it is crucial to have a capacity for monitoring these flows on a regular basis, including detailed data about the size of these flows and characteristics of the migrants.

Collecting accurate data about migration flows in a country with no census data available for the last 22 years, mass displacement of about a half of the population during the period after the last census and no population register operating, is particularly difficult. The only available administrative records are not accurate and do not allow fulfillment of requirements set by EU Regulation 862/2007 and needs for BIH policy makers. It raises the need for development of population register as a comprehensive tool for monitoring these flows.

POPULATION REGISTER Registration of population is a system of continuous registration of individuals, their civil status and place of residence, within a specific areas of public authority (OSCE/ODIHR, 2009). The definition itself specifies that any legal framework for population registration needs to clearly specify eligible population and the legal entity performing the process of registration. This is the main difference between countries in the format of their population register, which primarily differ in terms of the degree of centralization, i.e. whether the register itself is a central database or a decentralized network of regional or municipal databases. The history of population registers goes as fas as to the second century B.C. and first register established by Han dynasty in China. In Europe, earliest population registers were introduced in 17th century. Today, increasing number of countries is introducing comprehensive population registers, and civil registration is now mandatory in all OSCE participating States. For efficient population register requires respect of certain principals. First one is “one person-one file” principle which means that one individual should have only one file in the register with his/her personal information, preventing possible duplication of data. Second principle is “register once-multiple use of information” which create conditions for multiple electronic use of registered data. The advantages of having population register are clear. They assure maintenance of a continuous record of population with a record of their vital life events, with full coverage and updated, correct and standardized data. Such a database makes exercise of citizen’s rights easier, including proof of their legal identity, voting rights, or issuance of travel and identification documents. Moreover, it is important to mention that the 2011 Census in many EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Slovenia) was performed as a “register-based census”, meaning that these countries performed census by combining population data from a number of different administrative records, thus reducing administrative burden to only 10% of a traditionally conducted survey. This reduced burden on population as well, since it does not require visiting all the households. Finally, it reduces the costs of conducting a survey. Slovenia saved EUR 14 million by conducting register-based census in 2011 (http://www.stat.si/popis2011/eng/Default.aspx?lang=eng).

CURRENT SITUATION IN BiH Bosnia and Herzegovina does not have a population register yet. Outside of census enumeration, the only available administrative records of population in BiH are currently the ones provided through the IDDEEA database. These data include the population with permanent residence (prebivalište) and with temporary residence (boravište). It means that the current administrative records do not apply the EU definition of usual residence. Still, in most of the cases these two are the same; IDDEEA database contain only around 20,000 temporary residences registered, which is 0.5% of the total number of residence registrations. Therefore, the IDDEEA database can be a sound starting database for development of the population register.

The population stock figures requested by the EU Regulation 862/2007 of the European Commission on Community Statistics on Migration and International Protection should be based on the concept of ‘usual residence’ as defined in the Regulation: ‘usual residence’ means the place at which a person normally spends the daily period of rest, regardless of temporary absences for purposes of recreation, holiday, visits to friends and relatives, business, medical treatment or religious pilgrimage or, in default, the place of legal or registered residence. The definition of usual place of residence, recommended by EU, was used for the first time in BiH in the 2013 Census. This should make the stock data on population with usual residence in compliance with the EU requirements, once these data are available. The EU Regulation accepts the possibility that in case such information is not available the legal or registered place of residence could be used. Accordingly, the IDDEEA figures on permanent resident could be used in the short term period for the purpose of reporting to EUROSTAT. However, it is evident that doing so the figures will be quite different from the figures on the real usual resident population. The population of BiH could be significantly overestimated with the obvious underestimation of all economic, social and other indicators calculated per capita. Additional need for development of a population register is that current database includes all the individuals with ID cards which include people spending most of their time abroad, which results in a difference in administrative records of 400.000 people more. In particular, population register would be an important precondition for development of a good quality emigration statistics. Therefore, all the efforts should be made to improve data on total population, which can be done the best by developing population register.

However, the problem of not-reported emigrations of nationals should be first resolved, as citizens leaving for 12 months of more for abroad need to be considered as emigrants and not anymore as part of the usual resident population of BiH. This is a situation that is not currently valid as most emigrants are still treated as permanent residents in BiH, according to the IDDEEA database. Correct identification of the place of residence for these people does not neccesarily imply that they will be excluded from the population register and will not be able to exercise some of their legal rights as citizens of BiH. In fact, the only difference would be that their residence in BiH would be recorded as a „secondary place of residence“, while their usual place of residence outside BiH would be trated as „the main“ one. This is a solution already applied in many other countries, e.g. Austria or Germany.

POSSIBLE STEPS FORWARD  In order to improve the migration statistics, population register is a necessary precondition. However, there are different ways how the system of a continuous registration of citizens can be developed and implemented. The first version of population register can be developed by using Census data for updating the administrative database. However, such a possibility is excluded by the Law on Census implemented in 2013, which clearly specifies that the census data must not be used for updating administrative registers. This delays such a possibility until 2021 the earliest. Consequently, in order to develop population register sooner, other possibilities should be considered. One of the options, as already discussed, is improvement of the IDDEEA database.

Developing a population register requires a close cooperation between a number of institutions within the country. Therefore, the first step in development of the population register should be to establish a task force that will be consisted of the responsible state and entity institutions that will consider the possibilities and ways of development of the centralized population register at the state level based on the data from IDDEEA. Such a task force would, in consulations with all the stakeholders in BiH, consider all the possible alternative solutions for developing population register, which are feasible and acceptable by all stakeholders. Also, the task frorce would prepare a set of recommendations of changes in legislation that are necessary for succesful implemenation of the register. Experience from other countries (e.g. OSCE/ODIHR, 2012) shows that the well developed legal framework is crucial for success of the implementation of a population register. Such a legal framework needs to specify the main elements of the population register in BiH: contents, procedures, responsibilities, and rights of data subjects.

The contents needs to clearly specify responsible authorities, describe procedures, include a list of relevant definitions (particularly the one on „usual residence“), and type of data to be collected in the register.

The procedures should specify degree of centralization of the system, establishment of compulsory obligation for de/regisration, procedurs for use and protection of data, and regulation of exchange of data.

Establishment of the entity level administrative population registers that are linked through a centralized population file in BIH, or of a single centralized population register (as one of registers maintained by IDDEEA), covering whole territory of BIH, will be a necessary precondition in order to ensure a sustainable base for future availability of migration data and for better information on population processes in general, and consequently for better population related policies. The level at which the data will be collected should be a decision reached by a consensus of all institutions involved, taking into account effectiveness and efficiency of the solution proposed. However, the IT solution that will allow quick, standardized and up-to-date reports at the state level, by either using a single database or combining data from different sources, should be applied.

The access to data should as open as possible in order to utilize the database in the best possible manner for design of different policies related to population in BiH, including migration policies. The only binding constraint should be the legal requirements for personal data protection. Still, there are different solutions applied in developed countries that can be adopted in BiH. For example, Austrian Ministry of Interior produces unique personal identifiers instead of provision of personal data, and different identifiers are provided for each user of data without possiblity to merge these data from different users and consequently reveal sensitive personal information.

The legislation also needs to specify responsibilities of all actors. Although the register itself can be composed of a set of municipal registers, still the BiH Agency of Statistics, as the main provider of report on demographic and migration statistics, the main institutions responsible for reproting to the EUROSTAT and the insittutions with the best analytical capacities.

For the rights of data subjects, it is important to clearly specify rights of subject to access the data, correct and update their information, as well as to prohbiti transmission or disclosure of these data. Also, the right to obtain birth certificates and related documents should be specified.

RECOMMENDATIONS Population register is a necessary precondition for development of many other statistics, including the one on migration. Improved migration statistics will enable policy makers to deliver better policies, once they have accurate and complete data about migration. Once the principle explained above, namely “one person-one file” and “register once-multiple use” are applied, such a central register will bring the benefits of a correct and up-to-date reporting to a range of institutions that need such a data, including educational institutions, health services, labour and social welfare institutions, police forces, administrative offices that issue different personal identification document, etc.

The register, as we could have seen from the discussion of its characteristics, is applied at different degree of centralization in different countries. Considering a complex political structure in BiH and the characteristics of the current administrative records (primarily IDDEEA), the most appropriate solution for the population register in BiH would be a compilation of databases created at the level of municipalities into a central database. It would be similar to the current solution, where the IDDEEA database is a central database at the level of BiH that compiles municipal level data from local Police Offices.

In order to assure the quality of data collected in the population register, it is of particular improtance to develop an effective system of data quality assurance. In particular, multiple and incorrect entires need to be identified and corrected. Additionally, over- and under-coverage of the data contained in the register need to be identified by using sample surveys to estimate such a problem of coverage and to correct it statistically.




This policy brief is a result of the project “Analysis of migration monitoring capacities of BiH” which is supported by the European Fund for the Balkans, a joint initiative of the Robert Bosch Foundation, the Compagnia di San Paolo, the ERSTE Foundation and the King Baudouin Foundation through “Think and Link – Regional Policy Programme”.