Giving an identity to people who lost everything

Blockchain technology could potentially help “invisible” people such as the Rohingya refugees maintaining an identity, if original documents are lost.

More than 700.000 Rohingya are currently forming the largest single refugee camps in a region of Bangladesh. They fled their homeland Myanmar after violent attacks from militia.  One result of having to flee without any possible preparation: Many of the refugees do not have any documentation as to proof their identity. As The Guardian reports there are now offers from Myanmar to let the Rohingya return, but without giving them citizenship.

Blockchain for identity management

This problem – having been forced to flee a home country, loosing all paper and identity proof – might be tackled using elements of blockchain technology. The key idea is that if the data of a person is stored there it is much more difficult to get lost or that the information contained is forged. On the other side it is of course highly complicated to establish trust in the data of one person that has lost a reliable trace of paperwork or other proof-of-identity. 

This is though not the first report of high-tech such as blockchain being planned to use in humanitarian work. In Jordan, the UN already uses blockchain technologies to trace and reliably attribute food and money transfers to refugees in a one of the larger camps in the region.

As reported by The Guardian the concept for the Rohingya suggest to set up a blockchain based database, which will then be used to store verified information about each individual, freeing them from having to rely government institutions in Myanmar. 

Start-up aims to help 

The article cites a start-up called Tykn, based in Amsterdam, which aims to tackle the problem of “invisible” people. The company was founded by Toufic Al Rjula, who had lost his birth certificate in the first gulf war in Kuwait. Having himself experienced the difficulties of people not able to proof who they are, where they were born, he went on to found this company. Tykn aims to be the “future of resilient identity”, challenging current systems as to their reliability in the case of turmoil. 

According to its website Tykn aims to  “leverage distributed ledger technology to build electronic identity, authentication and trust services (eIDAS) tools for governments and NGOs, ensuring full compliance with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), imposed on May 25, 2018.” One of the key projects by the company is an initiative by the name of “ZINC” (Project Zero INvisible Children<), which “aims to permanently certify the identity of children in conflict zones by leveraging blockchain technology.”

The company and it’s approach have received wide attention by other organizations and news media. 

As a note of caution: As promising and as needed as these approaches are. Given the early stage of blockchain development, critics do warn about dabbling with such systems, if these are not living up to the promise of providing a better and more reliable proof of identity. One goal is therefore to work on the reliability of the systems used to store either identity or other important assets. 


The Guardian: Rohingya turn to blockchain to solve identity crisis, August 21, 2018

tykn, tykn.tech

Technology Review: Inside the Jordan refugee camp running on blockchain  – Technology Review, April 12, 2018

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash