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Commentary: Blockchain has potential to address some challenges faced by refugees; however technological solutions alone are insufficient

Author: Emre Eren Korkmaz, University of Oxford, Published on: 6 February 2018

"Blockchain for refugees: great hopes, deep concerns," 24 January 2018

Blockchain... is increasingly being touted as something of a magic bullet in a whole range of disciplines... This post suggests that while blockchain may be used to support people in need... focusing solely on the technical side is unlikely to bring the promised progress – and might even have the opposite impact. 

... [T]he majority of refugees live in the global South and these host countries face serious socio-economic structural problems. Thus refugees would face the same obstacles as locals: high unemployment rates, instances of modern slavery, harsh working conditions, an abundance of cheap labour, and constraints on the right to organise and bargain collectively... [E]ven if blockchain technology allows refugees to obtain a digital ID and receive aid or loans from agencies securely, this would not automatically mean that they are empowered or able to overcome poverty... [There is also] risk of abuse. Digital identities, bank accounts and mobile phones allow corporations, donors, international agencies and local-national authorities to track people’s choices and desires. Such control might allow authorities and corporations to increase surveillance over refugees... We [also] need to be aware of the motivations of the corporations involved. 

... Proposals for using blockchain technology could address some of the basic challenges faced by refugees, displaced and stateless people. However, it seems rash to present such technological progress as a genuinely emancipatory tool... [T]hese initiatives seem to offer a top-down solution... there is a need to listen to and understand the real expectations and desires of people in need and on the move.

Read the full post here

Related companies: MasterCard