Afghan refugees sit at registration center for migrants on their arrival from Pakistan at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Spin Boldak on October 30, 2023. Islamabad has issued an order to 1.7 million Afghans it says are living in the country illegally to leave by November 1, or be deported. LEHTIKUVA / AFP


A recent conference by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Denmark highlighted a startling global issue: around one billion people, or one in every seven globally, do not have a legal identity. This situation severely limits their access to essential services and rights, including social services, banking, and voting, while complicating their mobility and pushing many towards perilous, irregular migration routes.

Jens Godtfredsen, Ambassador for Migration, Return and Readmission at the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, emphasized the importance of addressing this gap. He pointed out that the lack of legal identity is a significant factor driving people towards unsafe, undocumented journeys. The IOM conference called for the digitalization of legal identity systems, a move supported by representatives from countries such as Somalia, Lebanon, Iraq, Cabo Verde, El Salvador, and Mozambique.

This digitalization effort, aimed at facilitating smoother migration processes and enhancing border security, must be tailored to each country's unique context and operational capacities. Countries face diverse challenges based on their socioeconomic and political landscapes, influencing the approach and implementation of digital identity systems.

Countries with High Numbers of People without Legal Identity

Despite global efforts, certain countries continue to struggle with high numbers of individuals lacking legal identity:

  1. India: Significant challenges remain in providing legal identities to the entire population, especially among rural and marginalized communities.
  2. Nigeria: Widespread internal displacement due to conflict and poverty has resulted in many, especially children, being left unregistered.
  3. Ethiopia: High birth rates and limited resources for civil registration have left many Ethiopians without official documentation.
  4. Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Ongoing conflicts and instability have led to large numbers of the population living without legal identity.
  5. Pakistan: Bureaucratic hurdles and socio-political challenges contribute to a significant portion of unregistered individuals, particularly among women and children.
  6. Bangladesh: Despite recent progress, issues like poverty and bureaucratic inefficiencies lead to many, particularly in remote areas, lacking legal identification.
  7. Indonesia: The challenge of managing civil registration across its vast and disparate island geography results in many Indonesians, particularly in remote areas, lacking official identity documents.

The conference emphasized the importance of cross-regional exchanges on good practices, learning from one another to refine national policies, strengthen coordination mechanisms, and ultimately, reduce vulnerabilities of migrants by adopting a rights-based approach. The push towards a more inclusive digitalization process in identity management is seen as critical to addressing these challenges effectively.


WorldCon 75, Scott Lynch; photo by Jana Blomqvist


WorldCon 75, Robin Hobb; photo by Jana Blomqvist


Based on an interview by Alisa Nirman on 3.10.2016