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close this bookCounting and Identification of Beneficiary Populations in Emergency Operations (ODI, 1997, 110 p.)
close this folder3. Counting and identification: why, by and for whom?
View the document3.1 Introduction
Open this folder and view contents3.2 Distribution
View the document3.3 Identification and legal status

3.3 Identification and legal status

Despite its limitations as a tool for distribution, registration is strongly recommended when the objective is to strengthen or secure legal status and thereby improve protection.7

In order to access basic rights to identity and protection within society, each individual requires formal identification and the recording of their details in the country in which they reside. Without such formal identification, individuals may lose their rights to land, social welfare and support, and importantly, where people live in fear of their lives, a record of their very existence. This aspect of identity becomes expecially important in complex emergencies where diplaced people lose their rights in their home country and become literally dispossessed.

Most countries have national laws pertaining to aliens, asylum seekers and refugees which require them to carry out formal registration of individuals. On the one hand, this operation gives the country a mechanism to exercise control, but it is also the mechanism by which forcibly displaced people, especially those that have crossed international borders, acquire a legal existence and rights to residence or abode. Registration can legitimise marriages and births, create a legal entitlement for refugees to international protection, and may offer access to scholarships and asylum applications in third countries.

While such laws tend to apply to refugees who cross international borders, a major problem exists for internally displaced people, who now constitute the majority of the global population of displaced populations. Although these individuals in principle retain a legal status and legal rights in their home country, it is often the very refusal of these rights which has caused their displacement. Yet by remaining within their own borders, these populations find it much more difficult to claim international assistance and protection. Where their displacement is the direct result of conflict or oppression in which the government itself is involved, they will have mixed feelings about registration by national authorities. In such instances, there is a strong case for registration to strengthen or secure the legal status of forcibly displaced people, as a step in extending protection.