How blockchain technology could help refugees get citizenship

It shouldn't take extraordinary acts to prove one deserves to be a citizen. Could the blockchain provide an answer?

August 02, 2018
Blockchain technology could provide refugees with a tangible record. Photo: Pexel/Wikimedia Commons/Prospect Composite
Blockchain technology could provide refugees with a tangible record. Photo: Pexel/Wikimedia Commons/Prospect Composite

What is a person without an identity? For refugees throughout the world and millions classed as officially “stateless”, it is easy to lose sight of the human circumstances that put them in that position.

Delighting in the rare chance to report on good news, the global media has shared stories of stateless heroes lately: individuals who have, through tragic and extraordinary circumstances, proven their worth to their country of residence.

Mamoudou Gassama, a Malian migrant living in France was granted citizenship in May this year and offered a job in the Paris fire brigade, after saving a young child dangling from a balcony. He earnt the nickname ‘Spiderman’ as well as his rights.

Mamoudou came to France looking for a better life—and has found it—but other migrants arriving in the same circumstances have a much more difficult journey to acceptance and integration.

Even more recently, Thai authorities have stated that three of the boys and their coach, Ekkapol Chantawong—who were rescued from 17 days trapped in a flooded cave—will be granted fast-track Thai citizenship, having previous been officially “stateless.”

It is welcome that their bravery is recognised. But what of the 500,000 people living in Thailand who are denied access to state services, many of whom belong to the same ethnic group as Mr Chantawong, the Tai Lue?

In normal circumstances, Tai Lue must wait approximately ten years to be granted citizenship and prove their Thai lineage.

To trace this back is so difficult that many stop trying, as the information simply does not exist.

A possible solution?

What if there were a way to store this documentation? That proved you not only belong in a state, but that you can contribute positively to it without relying on extraordinary, and potentially tragic circumstances.

The global media and international platforms like One Young World are helping to spotlight this important issue, and in turn, are encouraging innovative solutions—like blockchain.

Blockchain is not just the technology behind cryptocurrency. It is a record of transactions that is incorruptible. The information is personalised and specific only to that one specific blockchain; it cannot be changed.

There is an opportunity here to save the people who risk losing their identities. In 2015, I set up Taqanu in response to my own country, Hungary’s anti-immigrant policy.

Taqanu is a global movement and a digital platform that can address social and financial exclusion using blockchain technology.

In simple terms, by registering to the Taqanu platform, every document you hold, every transaction you have made, is stored in your own secure blockchain.

In this way, the Taqanu technology allows blockchain to serve as a Self-Sovereign identity platform.

A record that sticks

What’s the upshot for a refugee? Let’s take those who have fled Syria in the last five years. Many of the persecuted leave behind lives as doctors, lawyers, teachers, or more. On arrival in a new country, they have nothing, and immediately the fight to reach the status they previously had begins.

It can take generations for this to level out—Jewish refugees escaping from Eastern European pogroms in the late 19th century, or 1930s Nazism, are a previous example of this, where it took at least a generation for families to earn back the professional lives they had before.

Blockchain technology has the potential to be the failsafe that could allow refugees of the future the chance to pick up where they left off. Jobs, education, bank statements, proof of ownership of cars or houses and so much more can be recorded in the blockchain and available to the authorities of their new country.

From the state’s point of view, it will allow them to assess the credentials of any migrant in a speedy and reliable way.

From a refugee’s perspective, it would give them a secure history to use as proof that they can make a valued contribution to their new society.

If they can enter their new country on the same level as anyone else with the same expertise or profession, we could move towards a future that eliminates financial and social inclusion for migrants.

Less than superhuman

Nothing is that simple of course. To succeed we need people to sign up—not only those at risk of losing their identities, but their service providers, so that the information vulnerable people need to be accessible can be.

For Syrians, Yemenites, Rohingya and so many others forced to flee their homes, they may not get this opportunity.

But if we can push towards a future where governments and their people are registered to Taqanu, perhaps the future Mamoudou Gassanas and Ekkapol Chantawongs will be able to achieve their dreams of building a life in the country of their choice, without having to perform the superhuman.