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How blockchain can create a more humane process for refugees
Blockchain technology could help alleviate the struggles of asylum seekers who are many times left in the wake of political fights.
The current political controversy surrounding immigration in the United States has once again thrown into sharp relief the plight immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers face when crossing international borders. The situation in the U.S., including the separation of children and indefinite detainment of illegal immigrants, has also highlighted the need for systems that can make immigration agents’ work easier and guarantee that families are kept together and treated with respect and civility.
We’ve been seeing more and more stories emerge of parents looking for their children unsuccessfully, and of asylum seekers being detained indefinitely without due process. Ships carrying refugees from Syria and other war-torn areas have been making their way to Europe regularly over the past few years, raising tensions, creating a massive workload for immigration officials, and making it hard to provide refugees and asylum-seekers with the help they truly need.
Recently, blockchain has been making waves in many industries with its transparency and security-oriented technology. In the field of migration, asylum, and refugees, there are already several projects that have shown many areas where blockchain could help alleviate the suffering and struggles of those who are many times left in the wake of political fights. From tracking funding and aid to offering refugees financial services and even improving the processing of asylum requests, blockchain could revolutionize the way the world welcomes refugees.
Lack of transparency and accountability
Migration and asylum in the 21st century remain not all that different from how they looked 50 years ago. Despite the major improvements in technology and systems that can track and store information, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants are rarely carrying the type of documentation most countries require of foreign nationals. Moreover, the process can be murky from a government standpoint, raising questions about who gets detained and who doesn’t. According to Kristian Hollins of the Lowry Institute, the problem is one of unclear responsibilities:
“For states in receipt of asylum seekers, the challenge of verifying an identity is well known, and most states have developed legislative and procedural requirements to meet it. Yet there is no recognized international consensus about how to best establish an individual’s identity.”
Even if migrants do make it to their destinations safely and asylum seekers are admitted to their new temporary homes, tracking of all their vital data and records can become difficult in large bureaucracies that don’t have standardized informational practices. For asylum seekers with few actual records, misplaced information can lead to delays that result in prolonged detainment, incarceration, and even deportation in some cases.
A close-up view of the Za'atri camp in Jordan for Syrian refugees as seen on July 18, 2013, from a helicopter carrying U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. (Credit: State Department photo/ Public Domain)
In refugee camps and asylum seekers’ temporary housing specifically, providing aid and delivering it can be a tricky task, particularly in countries with less-developed informational infrastructure. Missing donations and supplies, misappropriated funds, and poor resource allocation are rampant problems for management and life in refugee settlements. This also includes a deep lack of transparency, which makes it harder to hold those responsible accountable.
How Blockchain can protect identities and thwart corruption
Blockchain technology has been making inroads in several fields due to its disruptive potential and the many applications developers have been able to uncover for its budding architecture. One of its biggest advantages is its informational storage capacity, which distributes an instantly verified and complete record of any transaction to every node in its network. This model enforces transparency, as everyone can see every transaction made, and the information is immutable once on the distributed ledger.
This informational capacity makes blockchain an ideal tool to improve accountability, tracking, and resource allocation for governments assisting migrants and asylum seekers. According to Robert Opp, the World Food Program’s Director of innovation, “There are a number of potential uses for blockchain that could dramatically change the way we reach people in terms of our efficiency, effectiveness, and security.”
One of the first and most necessary applications for blockchain in the sector is in distributing aid funding. Organizations like the Start Network have already implemented solutions in the field. The group of organizations uses blockchain to expedite the delivery of funds and track every dollar from donor to assisted individual.
The organization built a platform named Dorcas which allows organizations to directly fund the projects they are supporting without having to resort to banking institutions or government authorities. With Dorcas, organizations can transfer funding directly in a peer-to-peer manner with no intermediaries, resulting in no fees, no risk of disappearance, and no time wasted waiting for funding to be processed. This is especially important in countries where the rule of law is weakened, or where corruption often causes funding to disappear before reaching their destination.
Moreover, blockchain can help authorities track and keep records of asylum seekers from the moment they arrive at the border until their legal process is completed, something that is not quite possible or effective currently. Blockchain technology has been shown to be useful at storing users’ identities safely and sharing it for verification. In the world of immigration, it’s important to track visitors’ records and history against their requests. Blockchain’s immutable ledger makes it easier to keep that data, thereby avoiding potential problems stemming from lack of transparency.
Missing paperwork and verification can slow down processing and keep people in detention for longer. (Credit: Crossroads Foundation via Flickr)
Microsoft and other corporations have partnered with the UN on a global ID system for refugees, a prototype of which was recently unveiled, which could help ease the complicated process of absorption. An identification system for immigrants could give them access to services that are currently unavailable. David Treat, a managing director, believes this is a vital concern, as “without an identity, you can’t access education, financial services, healthcare, you name it. You are disenfranchised and marginalized from society.”
Finally, immigrants and refugees live in a state of instability, with their homes, routines, and sense of normalcy forcibly removed. One of the biggest hardships this brings is the loss of financial agency and freedom. In refugee camps, individuals live largely at the mercy of government officials and organizations that deliver aid.
Countries like Finland have also looked at ways to help asylum seekers and refugees fit into their new communities. The Nordic nation has started handing out blockchain-based prepaid debit cards to immigrants to ease the adjustment process. This technology empowers refugees by giving them a way to be independent and assimilate into their new surroundings. Immigrants can use their cards at a wide variety of businesses and the cards help the government track their spending and identity, giving them access to government services and making their integration into society easier.
A more humane immigration process
Although blockchain isn’t a silver bullet to fix the many systemic problems in the current model of immigration and asylum seeking, it can help. According to German NGO RESET, “While blockchain is arguably a cheaper methodology for record keeping over traditional software, the tangible benefits are that it retains a transparent, instantaneous and indisputable record of transactions. This dramatically reduces problems caused by corruption or theft and provides accountability to all parties.”
By alleviating the biggest problems that face the sector—transparency, identity tracking, and individual agency—the technology can improve the living conditions of refugees and empower immigrants around the world. With more organized methods to distribute aid, it will also be more effective, improving the lives of countless refugees. Overall, blockchain could deliver a more humane strategy to treat those seeking refuge from the storms they leave behind.
Here, internet pioneer Brian Behlendorf explains how blockchain can help end corruption:
So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
Metals, not minerals
Fireworm, a type of bristle wormCredit: prilfish / Flickr
This is pretty unusual. The study's senior author Christian Hellmich explains: "The materials that vertebrates are made of are well researched. Bones, for example, are very hierarchically structured: There are organic and mineral parts, tiny structures are combined to form larger structures, which in turn form even larger structures."
The bristle worm jaw, by contrast, replaces the minerals from which other creatures' bones are built with atoms of magnesium and zinc arranged in a super-strong structure. It's this structure that is key. "On its own," he says, "the fact that there are metal atoms in the bristle worm jaw does not explain its excellent material properties."
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."
Dealing with rudeness can nudge you toward cognitive errors.
- Anchoring is a common bias that makes people fixate on one piece of data.
- A study showed that those who experienced rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to bad data.
- In some simulations with medical students, this effect led to higher mortality rates.
Cognitive biases are funny little things. Everyone has them, nobody likes to admit it, and they can range from minor to severe depending on the situation. Biases can be influenced by factors as subtle as our mood or various personality traits.
A new study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that experiencing rudeness can be added to the list. More disturbingly, the study's findings suggest that it is a strong enough effect to impact how medical professionals diagnose patients.
Life hack: don't be rude to your doctor
The team of researchers behind the project tested to see if participants could be influenced by the common anchoring bias, defined by the researchers as "the tendency to rely too heavily or fixate on one piece of information when making judgments and decisions." Most people have experienced it. One of its more common forms involves being given a particular value, say in negotiations on price, which then becomes the center of reasoning even when reason would suggest that number should be ignored.
It can also pop up in medicine. As co-author Dr. Trevor Foulk explains, "If you go into the doctor and say 'I think I'm having a heart attack,' that can become an anchor and the doctor may get fixated on that diagnosis, even if you're just having indigestion. If doctors don't move off anchors enough, they'll start treating the wrong thing."
Lots of things can make somebody more or less likely to anchor themselves to an idea. The authors of the study, who have several papers on the effects of rudeness, decided to see if that could also cause people to stumble into cognitive errors. Past research suggested that exposure to rudeness can limit people's perspective — perhaps anchoring them.
In the first version of the study, medical students were given a hypothetical patient to treat and access to information on their condition alongside an (incorrect) suggestion on what the condition was. This served as the anchor. In some versions of the tests, the students overheard two doctors arguing rudely before diagnosing the patient. Later variations switched the diagnosis test for business negotiations or workplace tasks while maintaining the exposure to rudeness.
Across all iterations of the test, those exposed to rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to the initial, incorrect suggestion despite the availability of evidence against it. This was less significant for study participants who scored higher on a test of how wide of a perspective they tended to have. The disposition of these participants, who answered in the affirmative to questions like, "Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his/her place," was able to effectively negate the narrowing effects of rudeness.
What this means for you and your healthcare
The effects of anchoring when a medical diagnosis is on the line can be substantial. Dr. Foulk explains that, in some simulations, exposure to rudeness can raise the mortality rate as doctors fixate on the wrong problems.
The authors of the study suggest that managers take a keener interest in ensuring civility in workplaces and giving employees the tools they need to avoid judgment errors after dealing with rudeness. These steps could help prevent anchoring.
Also, you might consider being nicer to people.