How blockchain technology can help refugees

The blockchain race is on, and the fintech sector is leading the charge. But other industries are looking to utilize the technology as well. Some have even realized that it can change the way we govern ourselves, or even provide assistance to refugees in need.

Blockchain in the public sector

Governments all over the world deal with an unfathomable amount of data. From the time you are born until you die, there are countless files on each and every person. From birth and death certificates, property transfers, medical records, taxes, benefits, achievements in academia, criminal records, marital statuses, and so on. Many kept on paper. Now, there is a technological revolution in progress to leave that all behind, and to streamline the way information is stored and accessed.

The most notable examples of the use of this budding technology come from “new” countries. As explained by Kaspar Korjus, head of Estonia’s e-residency programme, “It can be much easier to build a digital society if there are no legacy systems and you can start from scratch.”

After years of war and drastic shifts in power, Estonia declared formal independence from the Soviet Union on August 20, 1991. Since then, the country’s focus on technology has turned it into the “Silicon Valley of Europe” of today.

Estonia may be one of the most notable examples of blockchain-within-government. Using blockchain-like technology, the government launched its digital national identity card. This card allows citizens to do everything from voting online to accessing digital banking and healthcare services.

Another major influencer in the blockchain realm is the United Arab Emirates – another relatively young country which has fully embraced technology, making Dubai one of the world’s most technologically forward-thinking cities.

With its towering skyscrapers, advanced transportation infrastructure, and flourishing business environment, the dive into blockchain governance should come as no surprise. In the city’s “blockchain strategy,” Dubai aims to conduct every aspect of the emirate’s business using blockchain. Aisha Bin Bishr, director general of Smart Dubai noted: “We want to make Dubai the first blockchain-powered government in the world by 2020.”

While blockchain takes on the idea of governance as we know it, the new technology is also changing the way with help each other.

Identity crisis

Due to the unrest in the Middle East and Africa, refugees are leaving their homes behind and heading to Europe seeking peace, asylum, and a better life.

Upon leaving their home, many individuals lose all identifying factors that most people take for granted, including their IDs and bank accounts.

Working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture seeks to solve some of these issues by creating a new system using blockchain technology in order to give those without an identity a new start. The ID, called United Nations ID2020, is still in a prototype, but aims to facilitate services such as banking and education to those who would otherwise be unable to access such services.

“Digital ID is a basic human right,” David Treat, a managing director at Accenture.

But that is not the only blockchain project the UN has been working on. In late May, the United Nation’s World Food Programme completed a trail-run of a project which utilized the Ethereum blockchain in order to provide food to over 10,000 Syrian refugees. The organization distributed cryptocurrency-based vouchers, redeemable in certain markets. Alexandra Alden, a WFP consultant explained: “All funds received by the refuges from WFP were specifically used to purchase food items such as olive oil, pasta and lentils.”

The organization plans to expand the project in the coming months to over 100,000 individuals in Jordan.

Finland is also working to create a system to help asylum seekers in need.

The Finnish government and a Helsinki-based startup called MONI have created a platform to provide refugees in Finland with a blockchain-based debit card which will allow users access to financial services which were previous unavailable to them. Cash-in-hand used to be the only way for individuals without identity to receive payments, opening them up to exploitation or even robbery.

With this new card, users will be able to receive payments and access their funds in a safe and secure manner. Additionally, card holders will be able to make purchases in-store, pay bills, and access an online application which will help users manage their finances. Because of this revelation, individuals participating in this program are even safer from identity theft than most United States citizens. The technology also allows the government and immigration services to monitor transactions, ensuring that taxes are paid and that there are no nefarious acts being committed.

Blockchain powers more than just money

While blockchain technology has been making waves in the financial sector, its impact on charitable causes cannot be overlooked. Providing food, identification, and banking solutions to those who are without access is a giant leap forward in tackling a growing crisis. Facilitating these needs is necessary in moving forward as a whole.

Things are changing at a rapid pace, and as more governments and international organizations adopt this new technology, it seems like the sky’s the limit.