For a refugee in a new country, identity—at least in the official sense—can be among the hardest things to recover. And without an official ID it is nearly impossible to advance in society.
Finland, which like many European nations has recently seen a large influx of asylum seekers, is using a cryptographic ledger called blockchain to help them get on their feet faster.
For two years the Finnish Immigration Service has been giving asylum seekers who don’t have bank accounts prepaid Mastercards instead of the traditional cash disbursements, and today the program has several thousand active cardholders. Developed by the Helsinki-based startup MONI, the card is also linked to a unique digital identity stored on a blockchain, the same technology that underpins the digital currency Bitcoin.
Bitcoin has demonstrated how blockchain technology can be used to transmit value between individuals without the need for corporate middlemen. Core to the technology is a software protocol that creates a permanent record of every single Bitcoin transaction. Anyone can access this record, called the blockchain, by downloading the Bitcoin software. Computers running the software all over the world maintain the blockchain, and use it to verify new transactions.
Blockchains are seen as a promising avenue for opening new financial opportunities to people who don’t have access to modern financial services. Besides eliminating the need for a traditional financial institution to mediate transactions, they provide a means for creating and securely storing a digital form of identification that can’t be corrupted and is easily accessible from anywhere….
In Finland, a MONI card can help address several challenges facing asylum seekers, says Jouko Salonen, director of the Finnish Immigration Service. Most importantly, a MONI account functions like a bank account, removing a major barrier to gaining employment. People can use their accounts to buy things, pay bills, and even receive direct deposits from employers. Meanwhile, every transaction is recorded in a public, virtually incorruptible database maintained by a decentralized global network of computers. That enables the Immigration Service to keep track of the cardholders and their spending….(More)”