How Blockchain Can Empower Refugees

Written by
Josh Murchie

244 million people live outside their home country of origin. Reasons for migration vary from searching for economic stability, differing demand for workers, to persons escaping from war. Currently there more than 65 million people forcibly displaced due to conflict, and many of those people will end up migrating permanently. These vulnerable people face many challenges when settling into their new lives. One of the main challenges migrants may face is the language and culture barrier between their old country and their new. They are also in need of housing, education, community support, health care, welfare and employment. Migrants in Australia have reported difficulties even renting a house, as landlords were reluctant to rent to a person who had only just recently migrated. Many migrants also have little to no experience maintaining a house and managing a budget. The culture could be completely different to home, for example gender roles can be dissimilar to what they are used to. They may have been highly qualified in their home country, only to move to a new country and find that their qualifications aren’t recognised anymore.

“Back home I was a lawyer and would advocate for big causes and human rights but here I can’t even advocate for myself because of the language”, Iraqi male participant, FGD 3

Stats from UNHCR

Migrants face many challenges when moving to a new country

  • They are in need of housing, health care, welfare, employment, education and community
  • Coming to a new country where their qualifications are not recognised
  • They don’t speak the language
  • No experience managing a budget or maintaining a home/work etc
  • Landlords refusing to rent to new migrants

How could blockchain technology help these migrants assimilate and feel part of the community?

Unique Digital Identities (UDIDs), are a way to give migrants an identity which cannot be hacked or stolen. UDIDs use a series of biometric data points as an electronic identity solution for undocumented people to distribute resources more efficiently and improve the security of funds for receivers. The World Food Programme actually began using iris scan technology to allow refugees and donors access to food a few years ago. This allows them to pay for food at a supermarket or get access to rations through scanning their iris instead of giving cash or vouchers which can be misplaced or stolen.

According to WFP, “Once a shopper has their iris scanned, the system automatically communicates with UNHCR’s registration database to confirm the identity of the refugee, checks the account balance with Jordan Ahli Bank and Middle East Payment Services and then confirms the purchase and prints out a receipt — all within seconds.”

WFP is also using the same technology in other countries to ensure that they are giving food to the right person.

This is an incredible breakthrough in technology, and great that the WFP has taken this initiative. Blockchain could further improve the iris scanning technique. The immutable and transparent nature of blockchain would give organisations a way to make sure that people aren’t cheating the system and doubling up on benefits; without having to share data.

Using Unique Digital Identities for decentralisation

The UDIDs could be used to decentralise an education and assimilation programme. For example, a social worker begins by creating a UDID for a recent migrant. The migrant signs up for English lessons, and as they complete classes and examinations (either remotely or in person), they scan in using their UDID. The teacher then gets paid either by a government provided programme, or through donations using a blockchain platform. There could also be options to enrol in vocational programmes, courses to convert their qualifications or vocational and life courses (for example lessons in budgeting); all through a decentralised platform. A cash for training programme could be setup, and in exchange for learning new skills (of which a record of their UDID checking into classes will be on the blockchain), they will be rewarded in cash payments.

Persons displaced due to war, political persecution or economic collapse may face issues with their personal records, including but not limited to education records. There may be a number of instances where the educational institutions can no longer provide evidence of education history. Storing education records on blockchain would mean they are permanently accessible from anywhere in the world, using the UDID, meaning that in a situation where a refugee has had to flee for political reasons, the government is unable to simply delete or destroy these records. If the educational company goes bankrupt in an economic crisis, it is still possible to get duplicate educational records. In the case of war, records could be destroyed and lost forever if a building is destroyed.

If citizens had hashed biometric identities to attach to these records and others such as passports or licences, then it makes the process of identification much quicker and easier.

Facilitation of Payments

Blockchain can help facilitate direct payments, sourced from welfare from the government or from donations either from a charity or individual to individual. Blockchain could also help to facilitate micro-loans which would not only help families and individuals in the short term, but assist them in sustainable life choices which will enable them to make more money in the future.

Blockchain is the Future

Blockchain is the future and will benefit people in many ways of life. It is clear to see that blockchain could help refugees and migrants with their transition into becoming productive members of their new society.

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