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How Blockchain can help both refugees and host nations

As the UN Refugee Agency warned in early September, the mortality rate for refugees trying to reach Europe has increased. It seems even more cruel considering that the numbers attempting to make the crossing have decreased.

For every 18 people crossing Europe in the central Mediterranean between January and July 2018, one person died. This is twice that of the same period in 2017, when there was one death for every 42 refugees and migrants attempting the crossing.

The summer in the United States brought the scandal with the US agency for immigration and customs (ICE) and the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP). Both bodies were accused of having a zero-tolerance policy and of separating illegal immigrant children from their parents. Annual immigration crashes have increased since January 2017, from 110,568 in 2016 to 143,470 in 2017.

Although the words "crisis of refugees" were left in 2015, the problem of migration of mass remains one of the central topics of the 21st century, given the large number of economic and socio-political crises – from Syria to Venezuela – and even the global migration crisis, expected by scientists. Given the importance and the difficulty of a decent migration policy, can we rely on decentralized technologies to improve it? In fact, yes.

The global passport

The first and most important problem that could arise if you have been displaced or fleeing war, terror or hunger is the loss of documents. Refugees can be left without a passport, property rights or diplomas during an emergency escape and lack of security on their way to the asylum countries. This, in turn, leads to problems and delays in the bureaucratic process of their identification and acceptance in their new homeland. As noted by the Norwegian refugee council research, 70% of Syrian refugees lack basic identification and documents showing ownership of properties.

Host nations certainly have a part in the damage, as they face problems related to the accessibility of vital information about newcomers to the undocumented refugee, the immigration service can not get information about their state of health, family ties or criminal record, or verify other vital data that will help them make a decision. Needless to say, this could lead to the designation of refugee status exploited by economic migrants, fugitives or even war criminals who caused mass displacement.

Not only do government agencies process a person's records, and then the problems could get worse after being granted asylum or even a new passport. Being less bound by humanitarian ethics, businesses may have even stricter demands for proven documentation. It is difficult enough to get a highly skilled and well-paid job even for a native professional, but the absence of a diploma reduces the chances of closing down to zero – regardless of real skills and career experience.

The same could be applied to the myriad of other aspects of life in our highly bureaucratized world. From public medical assistance to bank loans, the lack of necessary documents puts refugees in a position of exclusion and pushes them to other traditional structures – based on ethnicity or religion – that offer some compensation and assistance in front of them. indifference of the host nation. The results of these dynamics can hardly be labeled as successful integration.

Another important aspect is data security. The personal identity of refugees is carefully re-established with the support of intelligent biometric systems created by the United States Refugee Agency (UNHCR). UNHCR records millions of refugees and keeps these records in a database. But the evidence suggests that centralized systems like this could be subject to attack. As a report on the UNCHR site notes, Aadhaar – the massive biometric database of India and the largest national database of people in the world – suffered serious violations and charges were filed last year according to which the access was on the Internet for a minimum of $ 8.

Funding and Government

But there is a great distance between asylum seekers and their problems of legal migrants in a new country – and not all refugees are able to cover it, even if all the necessary documents they were brought to safety. Despite the significant financial resources and the attention of various national, multinational and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the problem of governance and funding remains a serious flaw in immigration policy.

Pending the decision of the host nations, refugees spend months and years in camps and centers, where basic comforts and even security are often lacking. Rounds and rounds of interviews, documents and appeal procedures separate them from their new life and are not shielded from failures and ineffective communications within the system. And the cost of a "statistically rare" error is individual destiny.

The distribution of money is another fundamental bureaucratic activity with a high risk of errors and embezzlement. The cost of the error is incredibly high. Researchers at the Bristol-based Group Development Initiatives estimated that at least $ 22 billion of the $ 100 billion most reported by donors as official bilateral development assistance in 2011 have never been transferred to developing countries. The money was instead spent for activities in donor countries, or for the cancellation or rescheduling of debts. In his report on the efficiency of the Greek refugee camps in the midst of the Syrian crisis, subsidized by various international organizations, The Guardian cited an anonymous official estimate for senior aid that up to $ 70 out of every $ 100 spent had been wasted.

In its 2017 report, Human Rights Watch warned about the lack of transparency in donor funding, particularly in providing education opportunities for at least 1.6 million school-age children from Syria. The NGOs represented hundreds of millions of insufficient funds and highlighted the main problems, including the lack of information on donor-funded projects and their calendar; and the lack of consistent, detailed and timely reports from donors

Finnish experiment

Finland, a country with a population of 5.5 million, can not boast a huge number of refugees. For 2018, it has set a quota of 750 people, mainly in flight from Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is much less than neighboring Sweden, which promised to take in 3,400. Nevertheless, the country is a global example of the use of effective technologies in immigration policy: it is using blockchain to help newcomers get back on their feet faster.

For three years now, the Finnish immigration service has provided asylum to prepaid MasterCard asylum seekers instead of traditional cash disbursements, and today the program has several thousand active cardholders. The card is linked to a unique digital identity stored on a blockchain. The system, developed by the MONI startup in Helsinki, maintains a complete analogue of a bank account for each of its participants.

People can use their accounts to pay bills, buy or receive salaries. Each transaction is registered in a public database managed by a decentralized network. This allows the immigration service to keep track of cardholders and their spending. And for immigrants, a MONI account means a simple and ready-to-use banking tool, as well as a permanent ability to verify their identification to their employers.

From the secrets of Soros to the adoption of the UN

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2018, the billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros has revealed that his structures already use a blockchain in immigration policies:

"Blockchain technology can be used in a positive way, and we actually use it to help migrants communicate with their families and keep their money safe and bring them with them. "

However during the question and answer session, Soros did not disclose details of this implementation and no further information has been shared since then. While billionaires maintain their good deeds in secret, the United Nations – the main international force in providing humanitarian aid and assistance for migration – have already stepped up the adoption of blockchain technology.

In 2017, Accenture and Microsoft collaborated to create a digital network ID that uses blockchain technology, as part of a UN-funded project to provide legal identification to 1.1 billion people in the whole world without official documents. The companies presented a prototype of the network at the UN headquarters during the second summit of the ID2020.

The purpose of the tool is to store biometric data – a 'fingerprint or a scan of the iris – on a blockchain and then help people to prove their identity, even in the case of loss of documentation paper. The platform will also connect the existing registration systems of commercial and public entities. David Treat, managing director of Accenture's financial services practice, has come to declare that this digital identity is a "fundamental human right":

"Without an identity, you can not access education, to the financial services, health care – call him, you are disinherited and marginalized by society. "

L & # 39; A he is not at all a stranger to the blockchain. The multinational organization held a series of public events that speak of innovative technology and, in July 2018, also established the "high level group on digital cooperation", which explicitly puts blockchain technology on the agenda. In May, he signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the IOTA blockchain platform to explore how technology could increase efficiency.

The organization is also responsible for one of the biggest implementations of the Ethereum blockchain for a charitable cause in recent history. In May 2017, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) directed resources to thousands of Syrian refugees by offering good refugees based on cryptocurrency that could be redeemed in participating markets.

Cryptographically unique coupon codes representing an undisclosed number of Jordanian dinars were sent to dozens of stores. What the cashiers need is only to verify the identity of the user using eye scanning hardware. The pilot program alone, which took place for 10,000 Syrian refugees, was told to save the agency by $ 150,000 a month by eliminating 98% of the transfer fees related to the bank.

In February 2018, Robert Opp, director of the World Food Program, told Bloomberg that the UN would expand its blockchain payment system. The agency plans to cut millions of dollars in bank transfer fees by switching to distributed registers based on the Ethereum digital money network. The official WFP website mentions that, as of January 2018, over 100,000 residents in the camps have redeemed assistance through the system. And the next phase of the project will see an expansion for all 500,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan who receive support from the WFP.

And at least six other UN agencies – including the United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Fund for Childhood (UNICEF), Women of the United Nations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) – are considering blockchain applications that could help to support international assistance, in particular supply chain management tools, self-monitoring of payments, identity management and data archiving.

Of course, blockchain can not solve all the political problems that immigration policy suffers. It is only a technological instrument – albeit a very ambitious one – and it will not teach the compassion of xenophobes and will not guarantee refugees a successful cultural integration or create well-paid, meaningful and socially protected jobs. It is useful for politics but can not be a substitute for political will.

Furthermore, we can not simply wipe out the controversial nature of the degree of control that the blockchain promises to host nations and humanitarian agencies. DLT (Decentralized Ledger Technology) technology is undeniably proud of its crypto-anarchic and cryptic roots and challenges the power we have given governments and financial systems. Thus, we can not question something illiberal in those biological control capabilities that the blockchain could help obtain for government agencies for immigration.

Immigration will probably not become a less problematic subject in a short time, as long as wars, hunger and inequality – not to mention the threats of climate change – and the lack of a final philosophical solution to the question of borders and of national well-being. But what the blockchain could do is help the refugees get more transparent and generous financial aid, save their vital documents and trace the process of the questions without making human mistakes. It looks like a good package to start with.

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