How Blockchain can benefit migration programmes and migrants

Solon Ardittis at the Migration Data Portal: “According to a recent report published by CB Insights, there are today at least 36 major industries that are likely to benefit from the use of Blockchain technology, ranging from voting procedures, critical infrastructure security, education and healthcare, to car leasing, forecasting, real estate, energy management, government and public records, wills and inheritance, corporate governance and crowdfunding.

In the international aid sector, a number of experiments are currently being conducted to distribute aid funding through the use of Blockchain and thus to improve the tracing of the ways in which aid is disbursed. Among several other examples, the Start Network, which consists of 42 aid agencies across five continents, ranging from large international organizations to national NGOs, has launched a Blockchain-based project that enables the organization both to speed up the distribution of aid funding and to facilitate the tracing of every single payment, from the original donor to each individual assisted.

As Katherine Purvis of The Guardian noted, “Blockchain enthusiasts are hopeful it could be the next big development disruptor. In providing a transparent, instantaneous and indisputable record of transactions, its potential to remove corruption and provide transparency and accountability is one area of intrigue.”

In the field of international migration and refugee affairs, however, Blockchain technology is still in its infancy.

One of the few notable examples is the launch by the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) in May 2017 of a project in the Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan which, through the use of Blockchain technology, enables the creation of virtual accounts for refugees and the uploading of monthly entitlements that can be spent in the camp’s supermarket through the use of an authorization code. Reportedly, the programme has contributed to a reduction by 98% of the bank costs entailed by the use of a financial service provider.

This is a noteworthy achievement considering that organizations working in international relief can lose up to 3.5% of each aid transaction to various fees and costs and that an estimated 30% of all development funds do not reach their intended recipients because of third-party theft or mismanagement.

At least six other UN agencies including the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Women, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Development Group (UNDG), are now considering Blockchain applications that could help support international assistance, particularly supply chain management tools, self-auditing of payments, identity management and data storage.

The potential of Blockchain technology in the field of migration and asylum affairs should therefore be fully explored.

At the European Union (EU) level, while a Blockchain task force has been established by the European Parliament to assess the ways in which the technology could be used to provide digital identities to refugees, and while the European Commission has recently launched a call for project proposals to examine the potential of Blockchain in a range of sectors, little focus has been placed so far on EU assistance in the field of migration and asylum, both within the EU and in third countries with which the EU has negotiated migration partnership agreements.

This is despite the fact that the use of Blockchain in a number of major programme interventions in the field of migration and asylum could help improve not only their cost-efficiency but also, at least as importantly, their degree of transparency and accountability. This at a time when media and civil society organizations exercise increased scrutiny over the quality and ethical standards of such interventions.

In Europe, for example, Blockchain could help administer the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), both in terms of transferring funds from the European Commission to the eligible NGOs in the Member States and in terms of project managers then reporting on spending. This would help alleviate many of the recurrent challenges faced by NGOs in managing funds in line with stringent EU regulations.

As crucially, Blockchain would have the potential to increase transparency and accountability in the channeling and spending of EU funds in third countries, particularly under the Partnership Framework and other recent schemes to prevent irregular migration to Europe.

A case in point is the administration of EU aid in response to the refugee emergency in Greece where, reportedly, there continues to be insufficient oversight of the full range of commitments and outcomes of large EU-funded investments, particularly in the housing sector. Another example is the set of recent programme interventions in Libya, where a growing number of incidents of human rights abuses and financial mismanagement are being brought to light….(More)”.