IOM Convenes States to Address the Plight of One Billion People Without Legal Identity

One in eight people in the world do not have legal identity and cannot have access to services. Photo Credit: IOM Ecuador 2023 / Ramiro Aguilar

Copenhagen – An estimated one billion people are living without legal identity and remain invisible to states, limiting their access to services and restricting their mobility, pushing them to undertake longer, more perilous, irregular routes. To promote dialogue between countries of origin and destination, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Denmark brought together government representatives from Europe, Africa, Middle East and Central America for the Legal Identity and Rights-Based Return Management Conference at the UN City in Copenhagen. 

The conference held on the 30th and the 31st of October, convened government officials from countries of origin and destination and served to promote cross-regional exchanges on legal identity as a core enabler of safer and regular migration, including enhanced readmission capacities, and socio-economic development through international cooperation and partnerships on border governance.  

“Today, one billion people do not have proof of legal identity hampering their access to social services, taxes, voting, a bank account, and driving irregular migration,” Jens Godtfredsen, Ambassador for Migration, Return and Readmission at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. “That´s why it´s critical to come together to discuss concrete solutions to migration challenges, such as the global identity gap, by adopting a whole of government approach.”  

Governments recognized that readmission processes for migrants are often hindered by obstacles that can be eliminated or reduced by strengthening a state’s legal identity capacity, consular support, and collaboration among relevant government agencies.  Furthermore, the conference emphasized the importance of cross-regional exchanges on good practices to learn from one another to refine national policies, strengthen coordination mechanisms, and reduce vulnerabilities of migrants by adopting a rights’-based approach.  

“We hope that this conference will generate innovative ideas, forge collaboration and networking,” says Barbara Rijks, IOM Denmark´s Chief of Mission and Sub-regional Coordinator for the Nordic Countries. “Let us not forget that behind every policy and every statistic, there is a human face, a story, a dream and aspirations for a better life.”  

Representatives from Somalia, Lebanon, Iraq, Cabo Verde, El Salvador and Mozambique, agreed on the need for regional and international cooperation between countries of origin and countries of destination to further promote the digitalization of their legal identity systems and national archives, and facilitate a rights-based approach to return management.  

Although the road to enhanced digitalization may be different according to each country’s context and operational capacities, standardization of IT and innovative tools promoted by IOM and partners, can contribute to efficient migration management and create economies of scale, as well as foster cross-international cooperation.  

“Confidence-building is central to establishing and enhancing inter-state dialogue, which this conference has greatly contributed to”, said Kristiina Lilleorg, Head of IOM’s Immigration and Visas Unit at its Headquarters in Geneva.  

The initiative was organized within the framework of IOM’s Global Programme Enhancing Readmission and Legal Identity Capacities (RELICA), launched in 2022. The RELICA Global Programme uses an evidence-based approach to working with selected countries on structural gaps and technical capacities on readmission and legal identity, to enhance efficient migration management, including countering irregular migration, mitigating border security-related concerns, and facilitating rights’-based return processes. These objectives are also reflected in IOM´s participation in the UN Legal identity Agenda Task Force and in the recent release of IOM´s Institutional Strategy on Legal Identity.  

Through the conference exchanges, IOM contributed to the achievement of Objective 4 and 21 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), that aims to facilitate legal identity documentation for all and safe and dignified return, readmission and reintegration, as well as Agenda 2030´s Sustainable Development Goal 10.7, which promotes orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people.  

The RELICA programme is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.  


For more information please contact:     

In Copenhagen: Alessandro Lira, Sub-Regional Media and Communications Officer for Nordic Countries,  alira@iom.int, +45 23 66 76 33      


SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals