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Blockchain Technology for Alleviating Refugee Crisis

By Harshul Singh

In the past few years, the refugee crises have been at the onset of the international arena. Millions of people have to abdicate their native places to foreign countries to find safety and a possible future worth living in. Situations like the Syrian, Libyan, Afghanistan civil conflict and the Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh are just some prime examples of such crises. In most cases, the refugee migration is in the backdrop of leaving behind a hostile and dysfunctional state, in search of another haven. The hustle created by the migration of large populations into other countries has also created the problem of loss of ‘Identity’ for the refugee migrants. This is marked by the fading bonds of citizenship which is the open-ended consequence of migration.


At present there are currently more than 82.4 million displaced people around the globe, of those, 30 - 34 million are children, as per the UNHCR Refugee Statistics 2020. For example, the Norwegian Refugee Council noted that 70% of Syrian refugees lacked their basic IDs. With the ongoing COVID-19 induced pandemic, the situation has become even direr and has added to the ambiguity of the situation.


The woes of refugees do not stop here as even after taking exile in another host country they have to face problems in terms of obtaining legally recognised governmental documents, difficulty in accessing quality essential resources, owing to fundamental questions of their identity. Similarly difficulty in accessing learning, education, and skills-building opportunities, employment and livelihood accompany. They lack access to proper healthcare, including psychosocial support and lack of gathering information about asylum, refugee rights, and available services in the host country.


The problem does not end here, rectifying the refugee crisis is even harder for the host country to documentise and create a database of information of refugees they intake so that they could look after the welfare and proper sustenance until settled-included them into their systems.


To overcome these problems recently there has been the development of blockchain technology that sets up a globally applicable system of digital proofs of identity, relevant for any kind of personal data, this could be individual bioinformatics, their past history, their employment or conviction records, family bio-data and similar others. All brought down to one cloud based platform for easy access of refugees information.


Blockchains are decentralized network systems that use the internet’s infrastructure to distribute and log transactions. Blockchains are a form of digital public ledgers that are free and accessible for all connected nodes; rather than belonging to a single institution, these ledgers belong to all the connected users. Here the user's identities are encrypted within a ledger and are only known to the users themselves, creating self-security checks. These encrypted and verified identities allow personal information to be stored on the relevant decentralized ledger, while cryptographic hashing ensures a layer of safety so the data is highly secured.


The constitution of blockchain is complex however, the central idea is to decentralise the storage of data so that such data cannot be owned, controlled or manipulated by any central actor. The digital identities created by such a technique are helpful to the users in a way that the ‘transactions’ can be easily carried out amongst them without any third-party intermediary and treachery. The system works by addressing the inherent “trust deficits” that have developed over time in our society. The blockchain is not only just a distributed ledger arrangement but much of a ‘distributed consensus ledger’ through which the trust is created by an agreed consensus protocol.


Blockchain technology helps the refugees by not only digitising their identity and other essential documents but in multifarious ways. On the whole, it deals with the inefficient transactions (here this refers to doing away with the paperwork and other related formalities and bringing all required information under one source for easy processing and delivery of service) in the states that host refugees and aids the economic flow back to the home countries and other similar procedures. In addition, blockchain can help to track the donations made for the refugees’ welfare and ensure that there is accountability on each and every penny spent. One of the most successful cited examples of this technology for humanitarian aid can be found in Jordan refugee camps where Houman Haddad, United Nations Executive, has developed the blockchain-based program that has done far more than saving money and financial resources. This has also been the largest blockchain pilot project serving more than a lakh number of people. This entrepreneurial technology has helped in tackling a central problem in any humanitarian crisis: availing resources to people without cohesive government identity documents or a bank account into a financial and legal system; getting a temporary job or training and also acquiring a secure shelter. Here they develop the “Building Blocks” project, that aims to make cash-based transfers faster, cheaper and more secure to improve the efficiency of aid delivery while diminishing its cost. The main requirement for the system to work — a device with connectivity at the point of sale i.e. the market, was available at all retailers in Jordan, the camps. This technique, mainly used for international cash transfers, is a way of organising data through a collection of information shared among many people and places. By recording transactions in a secure manner that can not be hacked, the system helps speed up transactions while lowering the chance of fraud or data mismanagement, it therefore allows any two parties to transact directly, removing the need for third-party intermediaries like banks.


Thus, the goal of blockchain is very simple yet ambitious and passionate - to integrate the lives of migrants to the host countries in a well-constructed manner so that the hardships by both can be tackled with efficiency. This digital cash can help the refugees to adjust conveniently to their new homes and attain some economic security to integrate. Blockchain technology can be used to keep a track of any new courses immigrants take, and any essential or general resources they need for their family and others. For example, in Finland, the refugees are also provided with pre-authorized digital cards that are automatically linked to the blockchain, in whole integrating financial resources for them and helping in identification, altogether all services that could be needed for information rectification for refugees in need.


Many projects at the international level have been initiated which not only connect the countries and their people but also the international community which collaboratively work to support the migrant communities. Started back in the year 2017, “Building Blocks”, helps the World Food Programme (WFP) to distribute “cash-for-food” an aid provided to approximately one million Syrian refugees who are taking shelter in the Zaatari and Azraq refugee camp in the outskirts of Jordan. The program aims to provide aid to as many refugees in the country.


Similarly, many prime private firms such as Accenture and Microsoft are now coming together in collaboration with many nonprofit transnational organizations in a public-private alliance known asID2020”. Their mission here aims to help achieve the United Nations goal of providing a “legal identity” to every individual disregarding their background and status. In the first go, they are targeting the population of 1.1 billion people who lack any officially recognized proof of their existence and conformity.


It's about time we all should acknowledge that at the core of such systems and processes is the concept of “self-sovereign identity” as put forward by Christopher Allen, who outlined that the “principles for a digital proof of existence are owned by the individual itself”. In such a scheme, identity would be portable and not only a subject of any state or central supreme authority, and this consensus is continuously growing that blockchain tech should be at its prime centre.


Although the reality remains that the socio-cultural barriers still act as shackles against the creation of an inclusive environment for the overall integration and the development of the migratory population. But having a hopeful outlook one can say that in every sector now the blockchain technology is swiftly paving in the fields of humanitarian and development aid. While it has the potential to revolutionize the aid sector, through pairing smart small terms contracts with forecast-based financing, it also has the capacity for in-society building. It acts as a potential solution to the problems of such vulnerable communities who find themselves at the mercy of the host country without any valid identity proof.



Sources


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2021, June). UNHCR’s Refugee Population Statistics Database. UNHCR - The UN Refugee Agency. https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/


Almeida, T. (2021, March). The most urgent refugee crises around the world. World Vision. ​​https://www.worldvision.ca/stories/refugees/refugee-crises-around-the-world


Faulkner, C. (2019, November). How blockchain technology has changed the game for Syrian refugees in Jordan. The National. https://www.thenationalnews.com/arts-culture/how-blockchain-technology-has-changed-the-game-for-syrian-refugees-in-jordan-1.932432


Huang, R. (2019, January). How Blockchain Can Help With The Refugee Crisis. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rogerhuang/2019/01/27/how-blockchain-can-help-with-the-refugee-crisis/?sh=6360ca826562


Juskalian, R. (2018, April). Inside the Jordan refugee camp that runs on blockchain. MIT Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/2018/04/12/143410/inside-the-jordan-refugee-camp-that-runs-on-blockchain/


Barbino, V. H. (n.d.). FINDING REFUGE: BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY AS THE SOLUTION TO THE SYRIAN REFUGEE IDENTIFICATION CRISIS. GA. J. INT’L & COMP. L. https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2479&context=gjicl



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