Rohingya refugees are turning to blockchain technology to address one of their most existential threats: lack of officially recognized identity.
The Muslim minority has been the target of the Muslim minority denied for decades to the citizenship of Myanmar. a brutal campaign of violence by the army that culminated a year ago this week. A "reclamation operation" led by Buddhist militias sent over 700,000 Rohingyas pouring over the border into Bangladesh, without passports or official documents.
The Government of Myanmar (former Burma) has agreed to take back the Rohingya, but refuses to grant them citizenship. Many Rohingya do not want to come back and face life without a home or an identity. This growing crisis has prompted Muhammad Noor and his team to the Rohingya Project to try to find a digital solution.
"Because a centralized entity like a bank or government has my identity," says Noor, a Rohingya community leader based in Kuala Lumpur. Lumpur. "Who am I to say if I am who I am?"
Using blockchain-based technology, Noor is experimenting with the use of digital identity cards that aim to help Rohingya in Malaysia, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia access services such as banking and education. The hope is that successful trials can lead to a system that can help the community throughout Southeast Asia.
Under the scheme, a blockchain database is used to record individual digital IDs, which can then be released to people once they have performed a test to verify that they are genuine Rohingya.
Noor's goal is to give Rohingya the power to claim their identities with a resilient system that their host countries will recognize, allowing them access to social programs, legal rights , education and health care. At this stage, the Rohingya Project's main objective is to tackle the most important problem facing stateless peoples: financial exclusion.
Noor's team is part of a group of refugees and stateless people around the world who are exploiting the power of blockchain technology to claim their identities.
The concept of blockchain comes from the bitcoin digital currency, which tracks the movement of money around its ecosystem by grouping transactions into 10-minute blocks, each of which is inextricably linked to each previous block in a chain of transactions that date back to currency creation.
Because of how these blocks are created and connected, they can serve as an immutable record of who owns what, even without a central authority that verifies the network as a whole. That property – the idea of a decentralized and "trusted" database – has proved to be interesting for uses beyond emoney, with blockchain start-ups that now offer everything from cloud computing to virtual cards. In recent years it has gained popularity among the humanitarians, with the charitable organizations that use it to transfer money at low cost and provide aid to refugees.
Tufic Al Rjula's birth certificate was destroyed in Kuwait during the first Gulf War. After living for two years in a Dutch refugee camp during the asylum process, Al Rjula met more than 1,000 other "invisible" men, women and children whose identification documents were destroyed or unverifiable.
Years later, having lived personally How centralized paper-based IDs, such as birth certificates, driving licenses and degrees can easily be lost, falsified or misused, Al Rjula co-founded Award-winning Tykn start-up with Jimmy Snoek. Tykn's mission is to provide "self-sufficient identity to all".
Al Rjula cites the system of punch cards used by the Nazis in World War II to identify and follow people on the basis of ethnicity as an example of the ways in which traditional forms of ID can be exploited and weakened.
Snoek states that while the paper ID is "non resilient" to counterfeiting, discrimination and loss, a blockchain-based system offers better protection.
countries, refugees and stateless persons are often found on the periphery of society. Unable to work legally and operate in "dark" economies based on liquidity and exploited, they are prevented from building the network of official connections necessary to verify their identity and open a bank account.
Blockchain-based initiatives, such as The Rohingya Project, could eventually allow people to build the network of relationships needed to participate in the modern global economy and prevent second- and third-generation "invisible" people from slipping into poverty. It could also allow refugees to send money across borders, avoiding high transaction fees.
United Nations Food Program
In the refugee camp of Azraq in Jordan, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) uses blockchain and biometrics to help Syrian refugees buy groceries using a voucher system. This use of technology allows WFP to bypass bank charges.
But Al Rjula says that privacy is still a problem. "Technology is maturing, but implementation by start-ups and emerging technology companies is still lacking," he says.
The involvement of a fashionable technology such as blockchain can often be sufficient to ensure funding, attention and support that begin -ups – whether for profit or charity – need to thrive. But companies like Tykn still have to face many of the same problems as their old databases that use their counterparts, to convince governments and non-governmental organizations to use their services primarily to understand how to do enough overhead to pay staff, while  Humanitarian initiatives based on the Blockchain will also have to deal with the problem of responsibility in their efforts to help refugees and those who are trapped in the limbo of statelessness.  Dilek Genc, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh who studies blockchain applications in humanitarian aid and development, says if the aid community continues to push innovation using Silicon Valley's belief in "failing quickly and often" and experimenting with vulnerable people will fundamentally disagree with humanitarian principles and fail to address the political roots of refugee issues. – Guardian News and Media 2018