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:
Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling has an important favor to ask of the American people.
- Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state. In this PSA, speaking as someone whose company has seen more COVID-19 patients than any other in the country, Dowling implores Americans to wear masks—not only for their own health, but for the health of those around them.
- The CDC reports that there have been close to 7.9 million cases of coronavirus reported in the United States since January. Around 216,000 people have died from the virus so far with hundreds more added to the tally every day. Several labs around the world are working on solutions, but there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
- The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
Two massive clouds of dust in orbit around the Earth have been discussed for years and finally proven to exist.
- Hungarian astronomers have proven the existence of two "pseudo-satellites" in orbit around the earth.
- These dust clouds were first discovered in the sixties, but are so difficult to spot that scientists have debated their existence since then.
- The findings may be used to decide where to put satellites in the future and will have to be considered when interplanetary space missions are undertaken.
What are they?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDA0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTM1ODc0Mn0.NH33LuauIo__sUBi4tvhwxDcsvhflDFD-Nhx9FjlSNk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=148%2C0%2C149%2C0&height=700" id="cec96" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="acb78abe2ab46a17e419ad30906751d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Artist's impression of the Kordylewski cloud in the night sky (with its brightness greatly enhanced) at the time of the observations.
G. Horváth<p>The<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kordylewski_cloud" target="_blank"> Kordylewski clouds</a> are two dust clouds first observed by Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski in 1961. They are situated at two of the <a href="https://www.space.com/30302-lagrange-points.html" target="_blank">Lagrange points</a> in Earth's orbit. These points are locations where the gravity of two objects, such as the Earth and the Moon or a planet and the Sun, equals the centripetal required to orbit the objects while staying in the same relative position. There are five of these spots between the Earth and Moon. The clouds rest at what are called points four and five, forming a triangle with the clouds and the Earth at the three corners.</p><p>The clouds are enormous, taking up the same space in the night sky as twenty lunar discs; covering an area of 45,000 miles. They are roughly 250,000 miles away, about the same distance from us as the Moon. They are entirely comprised of specks of dust which reflect the light of the sun so faintly most astronomers that looked for them were unable to see them at all. </p><p>The clouds themselves are probably ancient, but the model that the scientists created to learn about them suggests that the individual dust particles that comprise them can be blown away by solar wind and replaced by the dust from other cosmic sources like comet tails. This means that the clouds hardly move but are <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/11/news-earth-moon-dust-clouds-satellites-planets-space/" target="_blank">eternally changing</a>. </p>
How did they discover this?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1Nzc4MjQ4MX0.7uU9OqmQcWw5Ll1UXAav0PCu4nTg-GdJdAWADHanC7c/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C180%2C0%2C181&height=700" id="952fb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a778280a20f1c54cd2c14c8313224be2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"In this picture the central region of the Kordylewski dust cloud is visible (bright red pixels). The straight tilted lines are traces of satellites."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>In their study published in the <a href="https://academic.oup.com/mnras" target="_blank">Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society</a>, Hungarian astronomers Judit Slíz-Balogh, András Barta, and Gábor Horváth described how they were able to find the dust clouds using polarized lenses.</p><p>Since the clouds were expected to polarize the light that bounces off of them, by configuring the telescopes to look for this kind of light the clouds were much easier to spot. What the scientists observed, polarized light in patterns that extended outside the view of the telescope lens, was in line with the predictions of their mathematical model and ruled out other possible sources. </p>
Why are we just learning this now?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MjUyNDMyMH0.Zl8GmQ_rJHiL4b7hN0r_YBmgb6_ZqIRvqOVuko2ubpw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C141%2C0%2C185&height=700" id="87afe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd4c0b5088e601d7279cc5eb226f8b7b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"Mosaic pattern of the angle of polarization around the L5 point (white dot) of the Earth-Moon system. The five rectangular windows correspond to the imaging telescope with which the patterns of the Kordylewski cloud were measured."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>The objects, being dust clouds, are very faint and hard to see. While Kordylewski observed them in 1961, other astronomers have looked there and given mixed reports over the following decades. This discouraged many astronomers from joining the search, as study co-author Judit Slíz-Balogh <a href="https://ras.ac.uk/news-and-press/research-highlights/earths-dust-cloud-satellites-confirmed" target="_blank">explained</a>, <em>"The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and though they are as close to Earth as the Moon are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy. It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor."</em></p>
Will this have any impact on space travel?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c3d797fff5430c64afcb5a49bddc3616"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ou8N3v9SFPE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Lagrange points have been put forward as excellent locations for a space station or satellites like the <a href="https://jwst.nasa.gov/about.html" target="_blank">James Webb Telescope</a> to be put into orbit, as they would require little fuel to stay in place. Knowing about a massive dust cloud that could damage sensitive equipment already being there could save money and lives in the future. While we only know about the clouds at Lagrange points four and five right now, the study's authors suggest there could be more at the other points.</p><p>While the discovery of a couple of dust clouds might not seem all that impressive, it is the result of a half-century of astronomical and mathematical work and reminds us that wonders are still hidden in our cosmic backyard. While you might never need to worry about these clouds again, there is nothing wrong with looking at the sky with wonder at the strange and fantastic things we can discover. </p>
New cancer-scanning technology reveals a previously unknown detail of human anatomy.
- Scientists using new scanning technology and hunting for prostate tumors get a surprise.
- Behind the nasopharynx is a set of salivary glands that no one knew about.
- Finding the glands may allow for more complication-free radiation therapies.
PSMA PET/CT technology<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="676e611b970c9b516cace0870447b325"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RHAyoQF09X4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>PSMA PET/CT is a new combination of <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pet-scan/about/pac-20385078" target="_blank">PET scans</a> and <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/ct-scan/about/pac-20393675" target="_blank">CT scans</a> that is believed to offer a more reliable means of locating prostate cancer metastasis. A <a href="https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2020/prostate-cancer-psma-pet-ct-metastasis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">study</a> published last spring suggests it may be the most accurate way to diagnose prostate cancer metastasis than any method previously available.</p><p>Prior to PSMA PET/CT, the primary way to look for metastatic prostate cancer was to image the body using x-ray-based CT scans and to perform bone scans, since bone is where prostate cancer often spreads. CT scans, however, often miss small tumors, and bone scans can generate false positives as a result of other damage or abnormalities that have nothing to do with prostate cancer.</p><p>PSMA PET/CT scans track the travels of an intravenously administered radioactive glucose tracer throughout the body. For hunting down prostate cancer, this tracer contains a molecule that binds to the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472940/" target="_blank">PSMA</a> protein that's present in large amounts in prostate tumors. The molecule is linked to a radioisotope, <a href="https://netrf.org/2018/11/13/gallium-68-scan-for-neuroendocrine-tumors/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">gallium-68</a> (Ga-68).</p><p>In last spring's research, PSAM PET/CT was shown to be 27 percent more accurate than previous methods at finding metastases (92 percent accuracy as opposed to 65 percent). In addition, it was found to be much less likely to produce false positives, and it was particularly good at detecting tumors far removed from the prostate.</p>
A good kind of avoidance behavior<p>"Radiation therapy can damage the salivary glands," says Vogel, "which may lead to complications. Patients may have trouble eating, swallowing, or speaking, which can be a real burden."</p><p>The researchers looked back through the cases of 723 patients who had undergone radiation treatment, interested in seeing if inadvertent radiation of the tubarial glands was associated with the complications experienced by the patients. It turned out that this <em>was</em> the case: In cases where more radiation had been delivered to this area, patients did indeed report more in the way of complications of the type one would expect when salivary glands are radiated.</p><p>Now that we know the tubarial salivary glands exist, therapists can stay out of their way. Vogel says, "For most patients, it should technically be possible to avoid delivering radiation to this newly discovered location of the salivary gland system in the same way we try to spare known glands."</p><p>He's hopeful that that things may be about to get at least a bit better for cancer patients: "Our next step is to find out how we can best spare these new glands and in which patients. If we can do this, patients may experience less side effects which will benefit their overall quality of life after treatment."</p>
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