The Rohingya Project, a branch of the nonprofit Restless Beings, is issuing blockchain-based IDs to stateless Rohingya refugees. The Rohingya are an ethnic group whom have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since the 1980s and are currently suffering severe prosecution.
“They are disenfranchised. They are shut out. One of the key aspects is because of the lack of identification,” says Rohingya Project Co-founder Kyri Andreoua at the project launch in Kuala Lumpur on December 20, 2017.
The predominately Muslim Rohingya are largely dispersed, with the current refugee population at about one million as of October 2017. They are not included in any government census, so precise data on their numbers do not exist. There are significant populations in Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia and this is where the pilot blockchain-ID program will start, benefiting about 1,000 people.
While the Rohingya’s ancestry dates back many centuries in the Myanmar region, they are viewed as outsiders by the government. In 1982, it withdrew their citizenship. This minority has experienced murder, land seizures, military oppression, forced labor, rape and mass displacement for years. In 2017, clashes between a Rohingya militant group and government police led to a violent offensive by the military which the United Nations human rights chief called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Another Rohingya Project Co-founder, Muhammad Noor, is a Rohingya in Malaysia. He sees the new IDs as “a ray of hope. We are trying to put a smile on the Rohingya’s face who has been crying for decades.”
The new digital IDs will be created with blockchain technology, which is a database of secure, public records spread out over a network of computers rather than rooted in a centralized hub. It is famous for being the basis of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The nonprofit team hopes these digital IDs on the blockchain can help the refugees access everything from banking to education to healthcare.
Restless Beings, the parent organization of the Rohingya Project, is a nonprofit international human rights organization that works to “support marginalized communities that are deprived of media or public attention.” It was founded in 2007 and focuses on aiding persecuted communities to develop and sustain self-sufficiency. It is volunteer-run, networks with other groups around the globe, and uses the arts to create meaningful campaigns. During the past few months, it has helped more than 30,000 Rohingya refugees. Along with the ID project, it is supplying them with winter support packs that include items such as sleeping mats and blankets.
This aid organization is self-described as egalitarian and as having a “flat structure” with no intermediaries, which may make decentralized, peer-to-peer blockchain technology a great fit for their initiatives. The UN’s World Food Programme will also try a similar identity intiative in the future, after its successful trial of distributing aid money on the Ethereum blockchain to Syrian refugees in Jordan during May 2017.