Blockchain and refugee tracking

26 August, 2018

Among the various applications of blockchain technology, refugee tracking is one of the most innovative, providing the potential to dramatically affect the lives of millions.

Refugee tracking is not what most people immediately think of when they picture blockchain tech, but the applications in this area are numerous. The blockchain can help officials prove the identity of the immigrants, which is important weeding out illegals and criminals that hide among legitimate refugees. It will provide transparency to the immigration process, and even run refugee camps.1

Blockchain can provide documentation for refugees

A key part of tracking refugees and providing with the tools they need to find work and resources is proving their identity, something the blockchain can help with. Refugees must quickly leave their homes, and this typically means leaving crucial documents behind, such as passports, ID cards, marriage licenses, and birth certificates. Since there is no hope of going back, it is impossible to retrieve these documents. According to Norwegian Refugee Council research, 70 percent of Syrian refugees do not have basic documents for identification or property ownership. Documents thrown away, or misplaced, or just lack of records will lead to deportation.2

The blockchain can serve as a solution for this documentation problem by hosting unlimited valued assets on the public ledger and those valued assets can include data. By storing documentation, the blockchain can also enforce transparency thanks to the fact that all transactions are viewable and immutable.

Therefore, support organizations and host governments can use the blockchain to issue identification documents that refugees can later use to prove their identities. Having this type of identification will give legitimate refugees the ability to apply to universities, open bank accounts, get jobs, and more.

Blockchain can help refugees gain job skills

In addition to providing identity documents that refugees need to apply for jobs, blockchain technology can also help refugees gain skills for jobs. Some of the challenges refugees face include getting new skills, learning a local language, and facing the limited work options that are a direct result of being in the process of claiming asylum. The blockchain distributed public ledger can step in to allow for collaboration and transparency across individuals, governments, and businesses. The smart contracts on the blockchain can also automatically create work permits for refugees when they meet certain requirements.

Blockchain can help with food distribution for refugees

The blockchain can also be used to overcome the challenges associated with feeding such a large number of refugees. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are almost 22.5 million refugees requiring daily support, but the organizations face difficulties when it comes to distributing that aid since they must track transactions to buy food in order to avoid mismanagement of funds and food.

The United Nations World Food Program is already harnessing blockchain technology to overcome this issue, marking one of the biggest Ethereum Blockchain implementations for charity. This project gives refugees vouchers based on cryptocurrency that they can then redeem in certain markets. This improves transaction speed while reducing the risk of data mismanagement and fraud.

Blockchain can distribute aid funding

Just like blockchain can be used to transparently distribute food to refugees, it can be used to distribute aid funding across regions or organizations. For example, Start Network relies on the blockchain to track donations as they move from the donor and reach the person being helped. This organization created Dorcas, a platform that makes it possible to fund projects directly instead of relying on governments or banks.

In addition to distributing aid funding, blockchain technology can be used to ensure this use of migration funds is transparent.3 Experts see the potential for blockchain to administer the E.U. Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund. It could be used to transparently move funds from the commission to the NGOs within member states and then to project managers.

Blockchain can improve the immigration process

Between the ability to provide identity documentation and transparency, along with other factors, blockchain can also make the immigration process more humane and accountable. Using the blockchain delivers a transparent, indisputable, and instantaneous record, reducing the risk of corruption while ensuring all parties are held accountable.

Concerns related to blockchain for refugee tracking

While the potential benefits of using blockchain to track refugees are extensive, there are also some concerns about this particular use of the technology.4 While ensuring refugees have access to identification and tracking their movements can potentially help some people integrate into society, it also raises concerns related to privacy. Unscrupulous individuals or organizations could use the digital identity of refugees to track their movements more than necessary, analyze behavior, and create a data trail that may be used against them in some way in the future.

As a result, some argue that using blockchain to help refugees leaves them more exposed. Of course, there is also the chance that some will not want to take part in the blockchain technologies due to these concerns.

However, most agree that the benefits of refugee tracking are much greater than the potential harm. It can help provide organization to overcome the immediate problem, but we do need to have precautions in place and be aware of how people could abuse the system by stealing data.

How a refugee camp in Jordan relies on the blockchain

This long list of blockchain applications for refugees are not just ideas; many are already being implemented, including in a Jordan refugee camp that runs on the blockchain.5 This is part of the previously mentioned blockchain implementation by the World Food Program and is known as Building Blocks. This program began in early 2017 and helps distribute cash to be used for food aid to help more than 100,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. The program should extend to all the 500,000 refugees in Jordan by the end of the year. If it goes as planned, it will likely lead to increased adoption, either of the same program or similar ones, with UN agencies in other countries.

The Building Blocks program combines the distribution of food with building and storing identities, helping refugees now and in the future. When a refugee visits one of the supermarkets in the refugee camp, they use EyePay, an eye scan to check their identity and record the transaction so WFP knows where the money goes.

Since the program records transactions, it helps create a digital identity and history of each refugee. The project leader, Houman Haddad, hopes that by the time refugees leave the camp, their same blockchain identity will show more than a camp transaction history. It should also include access for financial accounts and government IDs. Banks could use this identity as a credit history, immigration agencies could use the blockchain to verify their true identities, and employers would be able to pay into the linked account. This identity would then follow the refugee no matter where in the world they travel in the future.

Other blockchain projects for refugees

There is actually a long list of projects that already harness blockchain technology to aid refugees. MONI, for example, is a Finnish blockchain startup that has been collaborating with the Finnish Immigration Service since 2015.5 The startup provides all refugees with a prepaid MasterCard that is backed with a digital identity number, letting them receive benefits.

Microsoft, Accenture, and other major companies are working to create ID2020, a public-private alliance that will help the UN provide everyone with a legal identity. That project will begin with the 1.1 billion worldwide without any official proof of existence. There are also smaller scale projects, like Bitnation, a blockchain startup that helps refugees with getting digital IDs.


1) Here Are Three Ways Blockchain Can Change Refugees' Lives.

2) How Blockchain Can Create a More Humane Process for Refugees.

3) How Blockchain Could Make Refugee Programs More Transparent.

4) Could Blockchain Technology Help Refugees to Prove Their Identity?

5) Inside the Jordan Refugee Camp that Runs on Blockchain.