Here are three ways blockchain can change refugees’ lives

UNOPS Blockchain 2018

(UN Blockchain 2018)

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Ahmad Sufian Bayram, Middle East and Africa Regional Manager, Techstars

Blockchain has the potential to disrupt a large number of industries and change the lives of many. Its technology could help millions of refugees, by solving some of the most critical problems they face.

Here are three issues blockchain could tackle:

1. Documentation

When refugees are forced to abandon their homes, many leave behind important documents such as birth certificates, marriage licences, passports and ID cards. These are nearly impossible to retrieve after leaving the country, assuming they have not already been destroyed. Seventy percent of Syrian refugees lack basic identification and property ownership documents, NRC research found.

Blockchain solution:

The blockchain can host and transact unlimited amounts of valued assets through its publicly distributed ledger. Among these valuable building blocks is data that cannot be forged. Identities verified on the blockchain cannot be faked, and are time-stamped and public.

Host governments and support organizations could start issuing digitally-authenticated identification documents based on the blockchain. Refugees could use these documents to prove their identity and that of their families, open bank accounts, sign contracts or apply to university.

Bitnation is a blockchain startup helping refugees to obtain digital ID documents, which host governments can use to verify their identity. To build trust in the blockchain identity, the service verifies a person’s multiple social media accounts and links them to their social security number, passport and other documents.

2. Hunger

There are nearly 22.5 million refugees who need daily support from NGOs and international organizations, according to UNHCR. But these organizations face many of their own challenges while distributing aid.

They need to keep track of all transactions made in shops and marketplaces to define and approve purchases, in order to guarantee proper use of funds and avoid mismanagement.

Blockchain solution:

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has directed resources to thousands of Syrian refugees in one of the largest-ever implementations of the Ethereum blockchain for a charitable cause. It gave refugees cryptocurrency-based vouchers that could be redeemed in participating markets, which sped up transactions while lowering the chance of fraud or data mismanagement.

The codes of cryptographically unique coupons representing an undisclosed number of Jordanian dinars will be sent to dozens of shops in five refugee camps across the nation. Using eye-scanning hardware to verify the user’s identity, multiple cashiers at each of the shops will then use blockchain technology to redeem the vouchers at the point of checkout.

3. Work

Only one in eight Syrian refugees who arrived in Germany during the 2016 migrant influx last year is now employed, revealed a study published in 2016 by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, and the IAB and DIW research institutes.

Several challenges prevent refugees from integrating into the labour market, such as learning the local language and acquiring new skills. These issues aside, many refugees are still in the process of having their asylum applications assessed, years after arrival, and therefore have limited access to work.

Blockchain solution

As a distributed public ledger capable of recording transactions securely, blockchain offers enhanced transparency and collaboration between governments, businesses and citizens. Valuable information can be shared widely, with genuine transparency, and transactions can be verified in almost real time.

Furthermore, blockchain’s smart contracts can automatically carry out certain functions, if predefined conditions have been met. Governments could, for example, create “blockchain work permits” for refugees. These would enable refugees to deal with employers or businesses directly, even for small tasks, and set up real-time tax payments when they receive income.

In conclusion, blockchain offers governments and businesses the opportunity to understand refugees better and provide tangible solutions that benefit everyone. Supporting blockchain start-ups is a step towards solving one of the most prominent crises of our time.

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