HomeLegal AdviceNo Legal Identity for a Billion People Globally, Says UN Body

No Legal Identity for a Billion People Globally, Says UN Body

In our increasingly interconnected world, a startling reality has come to the forefront: approximately one billion people worldwide lack a legal identity. The United Nations’ International Organisation for Migration (IOM) recently drew attention to this pressing issue, highlighting the challenges it poses for both these individuals and the nations they call home. To tackle this crisis head-on, the IOM hosted the Legal Identity and Rights-Based Return Management Conference at the UN City in Copenhagen, Denmark, from October 30-31, 2023.

The conference’s primary objective was to facilitate a meaningful dialogue between countries of origin and destination regarding the billion individuals living in the shadows without legal identities. The consequences of this identity void are severe, as it renders them invisible to their own states, depriving them of essential services and restricting their mobility. Lacking legal recognition, many are forced into longer, riskier, and irregular migration routes, exposing them to various dangers.

A significant outcome of the conference was the commitment of government officials from both origin and destination countries to promote cross-regional legal identity exchanges. This collaborative effort is viewed as a pivotal strategy to enhance migration safety, increase regularity, improve readmission rates, and stimulate socio-economic growth through international cooperation and enhanced border governance partnerships.

Jens Godtfredsen, Ambassador for Migration, Return, and Readmission at Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stressed the urgency of addressing the global identity gap. He emphasised that the absence of legal identification makes it extremely challenging for these individuals to access basic social services, pay taxes, participate in democratic processes, or even open a bank account. The lack of legal identity also significantly contributes to irregular migration, adding to the complexity of global migration challenges.

The conference underscored the importance of sharing best practices through cross-regional exchanges to enhance national policies and coordination mechanisms. By adopting a rights-based approach, it becomes possible to reduce the vulnerabilities of migrants and enhance their well-being. Representatives from various countries, including Somalia, Lebanon, Iraq, Cabo Verde, El Salvador, and Mozambique, affirmed the significance of international cooperation between countries of origin and destination. This collaboration can facilitate the digitisation of legal identity systems and national archives, further promoting a rights-based approach to return management.

This initiative was organised within the framework of IOM’s Global Programme Enhancing Readmission and Legal Identity Capacities (RELICA), launched in 2022. The conference shed light on the urgent need to address the legal identity crisis affecting a billion people worldwide, underlining the importance of a unified global effort to find concrete solutions and promote a more inclusive and secure world for all.

Monika Shanmugam