Stateless Rohingya who fled Myanmar are set to receive digital ID cards using blockchain technology in a pilot project seeking to help them access services like banking and education. It will also begin a process of restoring their dignity, the project’s founders said.
The Rohingya Project, a branch of the nonprofit Restless Beings, is issuing the blockchain-based IDs to the stateless refugees. The Rohingya are an ethnic group that has been denied citizenship in Myanmar since the 1980s—effectively rendering them stateless—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 widely dispersed, with a refugee population at about one million as of October 2017. Because they are not included in any government census, precise data on their numbers is not available, but The Rohingya Project estimates there are 4 million Rohingya around the world, the majority living outside their ancestral land since Myanmar excluded them from the country’s recognized ethnic groups in 1982. There are significant groups in Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia, traditional safe havens for the stateless minority. The first 1,000 people to benefit from the project in 2018 will be members of that diaspora. As it looks to issue its first thousand digital IDs in 2018, the Rohingya Project has kicked off a crowdfunding campaign, seeing to raise RM500,000. They estimate that the launch will cost the organization about RM500 per digital ID.
While the Rohingya’s ancestry dates back centuries in the Myanmar region, they are viewed as outsiders by the government. In 1982, it withdrew their citizenship. The 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.” More than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims, denied citizenship in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, have fled to Bangladesh since the August attacks by insurgents that triggered a response by Myanmar’s army and Buddhist vigilantes.
The blockchain-based identity system will improve the Rohinygas’ access to services such as hospitals, education and banking, thanks to a new blockchain-based digital identity initiative. Beyond basic services, eventually the program hopes to allow Rohingya access to microfinancing, crowdfunding, and social entrepreneurship. Its organizers also hope that it can become a model for providing access and financial inclusion to other stateless people around the world.