Identity Crisis – the Blockchain Solution

David Cullinan
Crypto Disrupt
August 21, 2018

Like many displaced peoples all over the world, the Rohingya refugees face a crisis of identity during a time when being able to prove who you are and where you’re from is more important than ever. The answer to this growing concern could rest with a blockchain solution headed up by the Rohingya Project.

A stateless population

Article 1 of the 1954 Convention determines that a “stateless person” is someone who is not considered a national by any state under its law and while many people make the mistake of assuming that stateless people are refugees that isn’t always the case.

Figures would suggest that only a small portion of stateless individuals are actually refugees.

The difference between statelessness and being a refugee

Finding yourself in a position of statelessness can come about due to a variety of reasons, including being part of an ethnic or religious group facing discrimination, on the basis of gender, or the shifting lines of territory between existing states.

A refugees status is determined by their need to leave their home country in order to escape from war, persecution or natural disaster.

Obstacles faced by stateless people

As you can imagine, the issues faced by stateless people are many and are all rooted, for the most part, in being unable to prove identification.

This is where the blockchain solution would come into play.

Some of the more prominent issues faced by stateless individuals include being unable to open a basic bank account, being able to travel freely within their own country, or even visit health centers in some cases.

The situation can be summarised by this quote from a 2014 report from the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion –

“The harsh reality for many stateless persons is a story of lack of opportunity, of lack of protection and of lack of participation.”

The blockchain solution

Headed up by Muhammad Noor, a Rohingya himself, the Rohingya Project is an initiative that has been designed to help Rohingya people overcome some of the obstacles that they face by way of a secure and transparent blockchain solution.

Having been denied citizenship in their own country of Myanmar for decades now, the Muslim Rohingya minority have found themselves the target of a shocking campaign of violence over the past few years which ended with over 700,000 Rohingya seeking safety across the Myanmar border in Bangladesh.

Since that time the government of Myanmar has reached an agreement to allow the Rohingya to return to their homeland, but still will not provide them with citizenship.

The key to identity

Noor and his team at the Rohingya Project are pursuing their blockchain solution, which will come in the first instance by way of digital identity cards.

With trials running across Rohingya populations in Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia, these digital identity cards should help holders gain access to services such as banking and education.

The aim is for this phase of the blockchain solution to expand throughout Southeast Asia if the trial is successful.

Upon taking and passing a test to verify that the person is genuine Rohingya their details will be recorded in a blockchain database, theoretically allowing Rohingya host countries to permit them access to legal rights, social programmes, education, and healthcare.

One of the most pressing issues faced by Rohingya people that the blockchain solution is being utilized to deal with is financial exclusion, which the digital ID card will go some way to helping combat.

The long-term aim over the next few years is to have as many Rohingya enter the program as possible, allowing additional opportunities such as micro-financing and peer-to-peer lending to become possible, as well as crowdfunding applications and promotion of entrepreneurship.

Another example of the blockchain solution to identify issues faced by people all over the world includes the award-winning startup Tykn, founded by Tufic Al Rjula and Jimmy Snoek.

Al Rjula’s birth certificate was destroyed in Kuwait during the initial Gulf War, and after living for two years in a Dutch refugee camp he was eventually worked through the asylum process, but during his time there he encountered many ‘stateless people’ who were virtually invisible.

Snoek commented that while traditional ID that comes in a paper format usually is open to forgery and loss, a blockchain solution offers far better protection.

Supplying food using blockchain technology

Even the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has initiated a blockchain solution along with biometrics to assist Syrian refugees in purchasing groceries using a voucher system.

This is an excellent example of a blockchain solution in use, helping the World Food Programme to bypass bank fees.

It’s not all plain sailing, however, and despite the belief held by many that involving a popular new technology such as blockchain being enough to secure funding and support, this isn’t always the case.

Companies such as Tykn face many of the same issues that their database-utilizing counterparts do in convincing governments and NGO’s to implement their services, to earning enough money to pay staff and keep the technology updated and operational.

Also, like all humanitarian initiatives over the years, these new companies will have to deal with the spotlight of accountability, because despite the blockchain solution being a considerable step forward, it’s still people lives that are at risk.

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