Blockchain could transform identification and aid processes for refugees
The World Bank reports that over 1 billion people have no way of proving their identity; this primarily includes refugees, trafficked children, homeless people and others who have developed no institutional affiliations.
As cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, grow in popularity scientists and entrepreneurs are researching how blockchain technologies can create immutable records that will also make financial transactions cheaper and more efficient.
Current conversations about blockchain technology are dominated by discussions on bitcoin and cryptocurrency; however, it has a number of features that also makes it ideal for record keeping.
By using blockchain applications to keep identity records individuals could build their records over time across borders as a form of identity. This would remove the need for individuals to depend on a centralised authority, like their government or a bank, to verify their identity.
Currently, these ideas are only small experiments but they do offer interesting insight into the future of identification processes and how best to manage the growing number of displaced people.
Finland offers refugees a prepaid Mastercard developed by the Helsinki-based startup MONI which is also linked to a digital identity, composed of a record of financial transactions, which is stored via blockchain.
Similarly, the Moldovan government is working with United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to use blockchain to provide rural children with a digital identity in order to protect against trafficking.
The World Food Programme (WFP) launched a blockchain pilot programme last year in Jordan to manage the high number of Syrian refugees entering the country.
Upon arrival in Jordan Syrian refugees receive vouchers for local grocery stores, the WFP pilot project allows refugees to cash in their vouchers using a retina scanner. The scanner is part of a biometric authentication technology that utilised blockchain.
The transactions are then recorded on a private Ethereum-based blockchain, called Building Blocks.
Building Blocks aims to make WFP’s growing cash-based transfer operations faster, cheaper, and more secure.
Robert Opp, WFP’s Director of Innovation and Change Management commented:
"Blockchain technology allows us to step up the fight against hunger,”
“Through blockchain, we aim to cut payment costs, better protect beneficiary data, control financial risks, and respond more rapidly in the wake of emergencies. Using blockchain can be a qualitative leap – not only for WFP, but for the entire humanitarian community”, he added.
The programme could save the WFP $150,000 each month in bank fees in Jordan as the blockchain technology eliminates the need to pay banks for transactions.
Blockchain enthusiasts hope that programmes like these will expand in the future to provide more than just food vouchers, instead offering an accumilation of transaction hsitory that would act as a credit history when refugees attempt to resettle.
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Image credit: WFP/Shada Moghraby