Rohingya refugees are turning to blockchain-type technology to help address one of their most existential threats: lack of officially-recognised identity.
Denied citizenship in their home country of Myanmar for decades, the Muslim minority was the target of a brutal campaign of violence by the military which culminated a year ago this week. A “clearance operation” led by Buddhist militia sent more than 700,000 Rohingya pouring over the border into Bangladesh, without passports or official ID.
The Myanmar government has since agreed to take the Rohingya back, but are refusing to grant them citizenship. Many Rohingya do not want to return and face life without a home or an identity. This growing crisis prompted Muhammad Noor and his team at the Rohingya Project to try to find a digital solution.
“Why does a centralised entity like a bank or government own my identity,” says Noor, a Rohingya community leader based in Kuala Lumpur. “Who are they to say if I am who I am?”
Using blockchain-based technology, Noor, is trialling the use of digital identity cards that aim to help Rohingya in Malaysia, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia access services such as banking and education. The hope is that successful trials might lead to a system that can help the community across southeast Asia.
Under the scheme, a blockchain database is used to record individual digital IDs, which can then be issued to people once they have taken a test to verify that they are genuine Rohingya.
Rohingya refugee children play football at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia. Photograph: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images