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An Ethereum Blockchain Is Restoring the Identity of Syrian Refugees

Last Updated September 23, 2020 12:03 PM
Gerelyn Terzo
Last Updated September 23, 2020 12:03 PM

This sounds like the type of social impact that the blockchain pioneers were talking about when they designed the technology. Just as Syria has gotten the world’s attention for a suspected horrific chemical attack on its citizens, refugees who have fled the war-torn nation for refuge in bordering Jordan have stumbled upon a humanitarian program using cutting-edge blockchain technology to keep their data private. It’s dubbed Building Blocks, and it’s been developed by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) alongside some industry partners.

The story is told by MIT Technology Review, which spotlights the Azraq Refugee camp comprised of tens of thousands of fleeing Syrians who have made a Jordanian settlement home just miles from the Syrian border where they left their fear-filled lives behind. The refugees are part of a project involving a “private fork  of the Ethereum blockchain” in which they “redeem their WFP-provided assistance” for daily transactions at retailers with blockchain technology and their personal data is being kept secure.

For example, the MIT Tech story gives the example of one refugee who visits the local Jordanian supermarket, where he pays for his transaction basically by providing a selfie with the camera at checkout. It’s called “EyePay” because the image of his eyes identify him.

Social and Economic Benefits

The benefits are both social and economic, the impact of which could shape the lives of generations to come. From a humanitarian perspective, these individuals who have left everything behind in their war-torn nations are being given a chance to rebuild their lives.

The crisis has left these refugees out in the cold when it comes to entering the workforce or perhaps even investing, where with know-your-customer and identity verification standards makes moving forward nearly impossible. But the public-ledger-fueled program gives a digital identity to people who have no formal form of ID, no proof of residence, etc.

The architect behind the program, Houman Haddad, hopes to see these Syrian refugees one day be able to transact from a single digital wallet comprised of a record of their purchase history, identification and “access to financial accounts” via a blockchain-fueled ID system, as per MIT Technology.

Meanwhile, Building Blocks has turned the typical approach to humanitarian aid on its head. For instance, the WFP would usually deliver food to people like the Syrian refugees in the Jordanian camp. But instead, they’re empowering these individuals by giving them money instead. The blockchain-fueled program cuts out much of the friction tied to bank transfers and the fees that accompany them, as evidenced by a 98% reduction in those costs. That leaves the refugees more money with which to rebuild their lives.