Posts

Syrian refugeesThe Syrian Arab Republic is a country in the Middle East with a rich and unique history that goes back as far as 10,000 years. More recently, political instability led to the Syrian civil war, which has created a humanitarian crisis that extends far beyond its borders. Syrian refugees are now found all around the world, having left their country fleeing the war. This has had a particularly severe impact on Syrian children.

The Syrian Refugee Crisis

Many Syrians have been forced to relocate in order to escape violence and the indiscriminate bombings of roads, schools and hospitals at home. The U.N. estimates that more than 6 million Syrians are displaced outside of Syria, while another 6 million have fled to other parts of the country. In the Northwest region of Idlib, nearly 900,000 Syrians have fled since December 2019.

Although many Syrian refugees have fled to overflowing refugee camps for temporary relocation and safety, others flee to unstable urban settings instead in the hopes of permanent relocation. As many as 70% of Syrian refugees are living in severe poverty.

This humanitarian crisis was recently worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Syrian refugees’ need for food, medicine and access to clean water has increased. Delays in importing necessities has reduced refugees’ access to these essential items.

The Sesame Workshop: Helping Syrian Children

Of all humanitarian aid for the Syrian refugee crisis, only 2% goes to education. An even smaller chunk goes to support early childhood education. Considering that nearly half of all Syrian refugees are children, this aid is essential.

In 2017, the MacArthur Foundation provided the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Sesame Workshop with a $100 million grant to fund a childhood education program for Syrian refugees. The IRC is an international NGO that has been providing humanitarian resources in Syria since the conflict first began. Sesame Workshop, the creators of the Sesame Street educational program for children around the world, partnered with the IRC to create “Ahlan Simsim,” meaning “Welcome Sesame” in Arabic.

The show will reach Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to provide the refugees in Syria and the surrounding countries with quality education. This new version of Sesame Street is provided in both Arabic and Kurdish.

Ahlan Simsim” has three main characters. Basma is a six-year-old purple muppet with two pigtails. She loves to sing and dance and is best friends with Jad. Jad is also six years old and is a yellow muppet who just moved into the neighborhood. Finally, Ma’zooza is a funny and hungry baby goat who follows both Basma and Jad on their adventures.

These new characters start with the basics: they teach young refugees about fundamental skills, such as emotions and the alphabet. They help their young audience gain educational skills and understand the world around them in a nurturing way. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRC and Sesame Workshop are still providing technological learning opportunities, resources for local implementation and preschool spaces for safe learning and playing. They also continue to advocate for these essential education programs.

Moving Forward

The Syrian refugee population is considered to be the most displaced population in the world. At this point, there are many Syrian children who were born into the conflict and do not know a life without it. The IRC and Sesame Workshop are working to ensure that these children have a stable future in which their lives can be defined by new opportunities.

– Camryn Anthony
Photo: Flickr


In 2018, the Netherlands’ government reported that 584,000 households, or 7.9% of the general population, were subsisting on an income at or below the poverty line. In other words, they were making less than 60% of the national median disposable income. This is relatively low; the Netherlands has the fifth-lowest rate of poverty amongst the nations in the European Union, and poverty rates have been on the decline over the past several years due to economic growth and lower unemployment rates. However, refugee poverty in the Netherlands remains a major concern.

The Netherlands’ Reputation

Refugees and immigrants have always been attracted to the country because of its historically high levels of tolerance. The Netherlands is also notorious for being a nation of prosperity, egalitarianism, and humanitarian aid. For instance, in World War I, 900,000 Belgians sought refuge in the Netherlands, which was neutral, to escape fighting. During the Holocaust, tens of thousands of people fleeing the Nazis hid in the Netherlands until it was occupied by Axis powers. 

Fast forward to the twenty-first century, and once again, tens of thousands of people from all over the world are applying for asylum in the Netherlands each year. Although some are moving around within the European Union, many are escaping their war-torn countries of birth. In 1998, this was due to the Yugoslav wars, which kept the number of asylum seekers at high numbers until 2004. In 2015, the Syrian Civil War commenced the flow of a new wave of refugees that are still coming in high numbers today.

Refugees Struggle Financially

Although these refugees are welcomed into the country, they do not fare as well economically as their Dutch counterparts. Currently, 79% of Syrian refugees are making less than the low-income threshold, and 95% rely on income support as their main source of income.  The nationality of refugees that are best off, Iranians, are still four times as likely to be living in poverty as their Dutch counterparts. In total, 53% of refugee households have a low income

A cycle has developed because sectors of the Dutch economy, such as agriculture and labor, depend on migrant workers. However, these jobs consistently do not pay well, and few efforts have been made to increase their wages. Because refugees typically do not have schooling on par with those from the EU, they have limited job options, and they continue to struggle economically.

Who Is Helping

The Dutch government has done a lot to help incoming refugees. To ensure that immigrants are adjusting well to a new country, immigrants must take a national integration exam within three years of arrival. There are additional levels of support for highly educated refugees resettling in the Netherlands. The Foundation for Refugee Students (UAF) allows for better planning of “educational guidance, language training and educational courses once refugees arrive in the Netherlands.” UAF provides housing for refugees in areas that are close to universities and higher education establishments, and it has recently created a mentor program that matches Dutch students with resettled refugees to provide them with support to settle into university life.

The Netherlands has been a place refugees immigrated to during many different conflicts, including the 2015 Syrian Civil War. However, an economic gap still remains between native-born Dutch citizens and refugees. In order to address this issue, the government and UAF have been working to make the transition into the country easier and positively impact refugee poverty in the Netherlands. 

– Sophie van Leeuwen
Photo: Pixabay

Education in Syria
Syria
is a Middle Eastern country that has been independent since 1946. Civil unrest and war within the country have been major conflicts that have affected other countries worldwide since 2011. These crises have had many negative effects on the Syrian education system. Here are eight facts about education in Syria.

8 Facts About Education in Syria

  1. Mandatory Primary Education
    Primary Education in Syria is six years in length and is required by law for all children to attend. After this, children have the option – but are not obligated – to attend three years of lower-secondary education. Following this is an examination and for students who pass, the option to attend one of two types of three-year upper-secondary education, followed by another exam. Those who pass receive a Baccalaureate or a Technical Baccalaureate; at least one of these certificates is required to attend a university.
  2. Female Education Prejudice
    In Syria, despite the legal requirements to send children of both sexes to school, enrollment rates are dropping. Acts of violence, including sexual assault, are used to ensure girls do not attend school. Parents push for their boys to attend school when they can, but that encouragement is not extended to their daughters. More and more often, girls will stay at home until they are married and are then expected to take care of the household and children, fulfilling more traditional gender roles.
  3. Impact of the War
    With war a constant part of the daily lives of Syrians, violence is affecting the education process. Bombings and shootings have damaged an estimated 40% of school buildings. This makes it difficult for parents to send their children to school when a violent attack could happen at any time.
  4. Refugee Status
    Many Syrian refugee children are not enrolled in school or any type of education due to a variety of factors, despite attempts to increase their access to education. Some of these factors include language barriers, lack of transportation and child disabilities.
  5. Child Marriage and Child Labor
    Many children who do not have access to general education are forced into child labor. Some who do have access to education may still be pressured into child labor to help provide for the family. There is also the possibility that they will be forced into child marriages. Child marriage and labor are not uncommon in Syria and are major influences on the declining education rate.
  6. The Norwegian Refugee Council Aid
    In 2018, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s education program provided for children who did not have access to either education or a safe environment in which to learn. The organization has collaborated with parents and teachers to rebuild schools and re-enroll children who have been unable to attend. The goal is to recapture the education many children had lost raise them back up to appropriate education levels.
  7. UNICEF Education Programs
    The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund aims to protect and satisfy the needs of children. Recently, the organization provided over a hundred classrooms and over three-quarters of a million school bags filled with school supplies to children in Syria. This program helped to reach 2.4 million children both in the country and across borders with refugee status.
  8. 2019 Humanitarian Strategy
    The Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan is working to increase education access throughout 2020 to both children living in Syria and Syrian refugees. UNICEF will assist in providing educational services, as well as clean water and hygiene for school camps, food assistance and basic needs that are non-food related. This plan aims to reach Syria and the five main regions hosting Syrian refugees: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

These eight facts about education in Syria show that while there are many factors preventing children from gaining an education, there are just as many aid programs determined to provide children with access to a stable learning environment. These programs help Syrians who reside in the home country as well as Syrian refugees who are fleeing to escape violence.

– Chelsea Wolfe
Photo: Flickr

Top 7 Facts About Women’s Health for Syrian RefugeesSyrian refugees face a variety of hardships in their daily lives, especially those with families. Syrian refugee women often have trouble finding the care that they need for themselves and their children. This is often due to the fear of being sent back to Syria. However, many countries are making changes in order to help these women by creating policies specifically for refugees. Below are seven facts about women’s health for Syrian refugees.

Top 7 Facts About Women’s Health for Syrian Refugees

  1. Around 75 percent of Syrian refugees are women and children. The stresses of living life as a refugee bring on many of the conditions that require medical care in this group. The most common medical conditions Syrian refugee women report include gynecologic problems, “micronutrient deficiencies, sexually transmitted diseases and mental health” disorders.
  2. Many countries hosting a large population of Syrian refugees are making health needs a priority, especially for women. Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey host a total of 5 million Syrians. This makes up to almost 95 percent of the registered Syrian refugees in the world. Studying the needs of refugees in each country can give organizations an idea of what aid is needed most and where. In studying the health needs of refugees, women’s health is the second-highest priority behind mental health.
  3. Many international organizations have begun to focus on getting Syrian refugee women better access to healthcare as well as health education. Hilfswerk International is an organization in Austria that is doing this. Hilfswerk focuses on bringing medical services and healthcare education to a specific city in Lebanon. These services include classes, an increase in the capacity of ambulances, pregnancy and delivery services, nutrition and mental health support. Hilfswerk hopes this initiative will enhance the health of many Syrian refugee women and their families.
  4. Non-governmental organizations have comprised enough data to provide relative care to Syrian refugee women in countries like Lebanon and Jordan. However, this is not the case for Turkey. Turkey has strict rules that do not allow organizations or journalists to report on the refugee camps. Consequently, there is not enough data on what Syrian refugee women need with medical care.
  5. Due to Jordan having a history of an open border with Syria, the country is relatively well off when caring for its refugee population. The government of Jordan has policies for reproductive health services and provides free primary healthcare as well as immunizations for children. All women in Jordan have access to maternal care, postnatal care and trained professionals present during deliveries.
  6. In 2012, U.N. Women created a cash-for-work program for refugee women called Oasis at the most populated refugee camp in Jordan. Oasis trains refugee women to do jobs such as tailoring and hairstyling in order to provide to their families. U.N. Women also teaches women how to secure a work permit. Furthermore, it has hosted job fairs for jobs outside of Oasis. The program gives refugee women skills and a way to provide for their families. In addition, Oasis helps refugee women to create a safe community and supports mental well-being.
  7. UNICEF has created an initiative called “Dining for Women.” Dining for Women includes a $100,000 grant that provides Syrian refugee women with safe jobs and addresses the need for an increase in maternal care in Jordan. UNICEF will provide kits to women and their babies that include clothing, diapers, blankets and hygiene products. They also provide monthly payments and prenatal/postnatal counseling.

These seven facts about women’s health for Syrian refugees show that there is important work to be done. Thankfully, there are organizations working on addressing the needs of refugees, especially women.

Alyson Kaufman
Photo: Flickr

Nonprofits Helping Syrian Refugees

The Syrian civil war has been ongoing since 2011, making the Syrian refugee population the world’s largest group forcibly displaced from their country. At the end of 2018, there were 13 million refugees from Syria, accounting for more than half of the country’s total population. The vast majority of Syrian refugees in Lebanon (70 percent) and Jordan (90 percent) are living below the poverty line. Fortunately, a number of groups are stepping in to deliver humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. Keep reading to learn more about these three nonprofits helping Syrian refugees.

3 Nonprofits Helping Syrian Refugees

  1. Sunrise USA – Founded in 2011, Sunrise USA is a nonprofit organization focused on providing humanitarian assistance for Syrians in need whether they still live in the country or not. The group is focused on sustainable development in areas including education and health care.
    • Health Care With help from donations, Sunrise USA built a full-time clinic in the Tayba camp in Syria, as well as a clinic in Istanbul and a polyclinic in Rihanli, Turkey. The organization has also established 22 trauma care facilities in Syria.
    • Education As of 2018, around 5.8 million children and youth in Syria were in need of education assistance. About 2.1 million of them were out of school completely. Sunrise USA has built four schools and provided books and supplies to students and families around refugee camps. In 2015, Sunrise USA was a lead sponsor in the creation of the Al-Salam School which had 1,200 students.
    • Care for Orphans The number of Syrian orphans, both in Syria and neighboring countries, has increased to more than 1 million since 2011. Through Sunrise USA’s orphan sponsorship, hundreds of orphans have been provided with food, clothing, education and medicine.
  2. Doctors Without Borders (DWB) – Officially founded in 1971, the organization’s core belief is that “all people have the right to medical care regardless of gender, race, religion, creed, or political affiliation, and that the needs of these people outweigh respect for national boundaries.” Here’s a look at DWB’s efforts to help Syrian refugees:
    • Jordan – In 2017, Jordan closed off the border connecting the country to Syria and in 2018 canceled all subsidized health care for Syrian refugees. Doctors Without Borders has three clinics in Irbid, Jordan that focus on non-communicable diseases, which are the leading causes of death in the region. In 2018, the organization provided 69,000 outpatient consultations, 11,900 individual mental health consultations and 2,690 assisted births.
    • Lebanon – Shatila refugee camp in South Beirut is home to Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese people living in poor and overcrowded conditions with minimal services. Doctors Without Borders has set up both a primary health care center and a women’s center inside the camp in 2013. The organization also launched a vaccination campaign around the camp, opened a mental health support branch in a clinic in Fneideq, offer family planning and mental health care services in the Burj-al-Barajneh refugee camp, and operate a care program in Ein-al-Hilweh refugee camp for patients with mobility issues.
  3. Concern Worldwide US – Founded in 1968, Concern Worldwide works in the world’s poorest countries to provide emergency response, education, water and sanitation, as well as help communities develop resilience to higher impacting climates. The organization works to help Syrian refugees in a few ways:
    • Lebanon – Concern Worldwide is not only focused on creating “collection centers,”–which are multi-family shelters–but also on improving water, sanitation and hygiene conditions in the highly concentrated refugee areas of the country. The organization has provided assistance for 56,000 refugees and is also helping hundreds of children get access to education.
    • Syria – Since 2014, Concern Worldwide has worked in Syria to tackle waterborne diseases by installing generators and chlorinated water sources and also providing hygiene supplies. The organization also provides basic necessities to Syrians by distributing food baskets and for families with access to markets, food vouchers.

– Jordan Miller
Photo: Flickr

Letters of HopeThe civil war in Syria has now entered its ninth year. Through the fog of a seemingly endless war, even the United Nations lost track of the number of lives lost in the conflict. The last estimate in 2016 placed casualty numbers well over 400,000. The remaining Syrians are not only battling for their country, but also for their hope. The CARE Letters of Hope initiative wants to help with that.

Today in Syria

In January of 2018, Turkey launched an assault on Syria’s northern regions to push out Kurdish rebels in control of the area around Afrin. In April, the United States, Britain and France carried out multiple punitive strikes on Syrian targets in response to various claims of a chemical attack in Douma. Now in 2019, the future of the conflict and the ramifications of U.S. plans to withdraw troops from the nation remain unknown. In the face of such great uncertainty, Syria not only needs extensive aid in reconstructing the country but hope that there are still people who recognize Syrians’ humanity and distress.

The Letters of Hope Initiative

With over 12 million of their countrymen displaced and scattered, Syrian refugees need hope, acceptance and a kind word now more than ever. It is because of this need for connection among refugees and the outside world that the CARE Letters of Hope initiative was born. In 1945, 22 American organizations came together to assemble life-saving care packages to World War II survivors in danger of starvation; CARE was born. By May of 1946, 15,000 packages of U.S. Army surplus food parcels reached the harbor of Le Havre, France. These parcels were designed to provide one meal for 10 soldiers. $10 was enough to buy a CARE Package, which was received by its addressee overseas within four months.

More recently, in response to the Syrian crisis, CARE started sending a new kind of package: encouraging letters addressed to refugees. This project, named the Letters of Hope initiative, began in 2016 when the original WWII CARE Package recipients living in the U.S. started writing letters of support to Syrian children. By doing so, they started “bridging the great distance and circumstances that separated them.” That simple act inspired thousands across the globe to send their own letters that kept the movement alive and well to the modern day.

The Letters of Hope initiative has also started branching out into schools. Its website now provides downloadable junior-high classroom lessons with the aims to “build understanding, empathy and connections between American students and young refugees around the world.”

The Fledgling Fund

The Letters of Hope initiative is made possible in part by support from The Fledgling Fund. The Fledgling Fund is an organization that explores the impact that documentary films and other forms of visual storytelling have on social change and advocacy. By creating awareness of humanitarian crises through engaging content, the Fund is able to emotionally move an audience to action. In tandem, Letters of Hope and the Fledgling Fund are vying to tell a story of hope and compassion for Syria and other nations in need without excluding Syrians and other oppressed people from the narrative.

Haley Hiday
Photo: Flickr

seven facts about the poverty crisis in SyriaSyria’s economy was once promising, and the nation even functioned as a resettlement country for refugees. However, the past seven years of war have disrupted economic activity and shaped Syria into one of the worst the humanitarian and economic catastrophes of the present time. As of 2018, the conflict is still continuous with no predicted end in sight. Below are seven facts about the poverty crisis in Syria and how the current war has contributed to the country’s extremely poor state.

Seven Facts About the Poverty Crisis in Syria

  1. The war isn’t over, and casualties are increasing on a daily basis.
    Since the Syrian Civil War in 2011, around half a million people have been killed. President Bashar al-Assad and government forces are carrying out chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin gas, in an attack against civilians. Right now, some of the worst violence is intensifying each day in Eastern Ghouta, located just 10 kilometers east of the capital Damascus. More than 600 residents are believed to have been killed and at least 2,000 injured since President Assad’s forces launched an air and ground invasion on February 18.
  1. Access to basic necessities in war-stricken areas is scarce.
    Civilians of the Eastern Ghouta area have limited or no access to food, medicine or sanitary supplies. Access to adequate health care is severely restricted for an estimated 350,000 civilians trapped in the area as well. Eastern Ghouta now has just one doctor per 3,600 people; 75 percent of Syria’s doctors and medical personnel have fled the country
  1. Syria has the biggest internally displaced population in the world.
    Since the civil war began, more than six million people have fled their homes but have not crossed Syria’s borders to find safety. Approximately 6,550 Syrians are displaced each day and live in camps, informal settlements or abandoned buildings along the Turkish border in Northern Syria.
  1. Kids are at great risk.
    Before the war, Syria had an actively strong education system, with almost 100 percent primary school enrollment and 70 percent secondary school enrollment. However, today about 1.75 million Syrian children and youth do not have access to an education. More than a third of schools in Syria have been damaged, destroyed or are being used as shelters by internally displaced people, and hundreds of thousands of teachers and professors have fled the country. Additionally, Syria is enduring the worst outbreak of child malnutrition yet, where an estimated 1.7 million children and pregnant or lactating women have been screened for acute malnutrition.
  1. There is an extreme lack of clean water and sanitation.
    Safe drinking water and basic sanitation services are scarce due to damaged pumps and pipelines, which increases vulnerability to epidemic diseases. In some areas with the greatest refugee populations, the water supply has hit a low of 22 liters per person per day, which is less than one-tenth of what the average American uses.
  1. Syria is lacking in natural resources.
    Although the country does have some oil, the country is not as abundant as it used to be when oil production peaked at 677,000 barrels per day in 2002. Since the growth of the Syrian conflict in 2011 to today, barrel production has declined to about 25,000 per day. Also, the increased armed conflict has impacted Syria as an agricultural nation. The ongoing war has caused major destruction to agricultural production, resulting in more than $16 billion of lost crop and livestock production and destroyed farming resources.
  1. The economy has deeply collapsed.
    As these seven facts about the poverty crisis in Syria indicate, years of conflict has destroyed the country’s economy. Syria’s economy has declined more than 70 percent since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, and now the country has one of the world’s highest inflation rates. As of December 2017, the inflation rate in Syria was recorded at 43.2 percent and reached an all-time high of 121.29 percent in 2013. Additionally, over half the population is unemployed and 82.5 percent are living below the poverty line.

These seven facts about the poverty crisis in Syria allow for a better understanding of the harsh reality of the country’s current state. While it may be easy to become desensitized to the Syrian conflict, it is easy to help through donations or mobilization. Reputable charity organizations including UNHCR, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, the International Red Cross and Save the Children are all working to provide aid to the millions of Syrians affected by the war and poverty. Furthermore, taking action by emailing or writing to members of Congress and asking them to support aid to Syria is another way to help.

– Natalie Shaw

Photo: Flickr

Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2017 Introduced in SenateSenator Ben Cardin (D-MD) launched the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2017 in June 2017. This bill would require a report from the United States on the accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Syria by the Syrian government.

Syria’s ongoing conflict has lasted over six years as of the year 2017. The war crimes committed in the nation have caused over 4,900,000 citizens to flee to neighboring countries, with another 600,000 living under siege. Evidence has been collected by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) declaring that the Syrian government has “committed the crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforce disappearance and other inhuman acts.”

Furthermore, a report from 2016 stated that the Syrian government forces used chemicals in an attack in Idlib in 2015 in violation of a pact. The United States and Russia made an agreement requiring Syria to dispose of all chemical weapons to prevent further harm to the Syrian people. Because of these accounts, at least 12 other countries have requested assistance in investigating the ongoing conflict in Syria in order to prevent further war crimes.

Congress has taken initiative, urging all parties in the conflict to halt attacks on civilians and provide the necessary humanitarian and medical assistance in order to end the siege on all peoples. This is a result of another document reporting that, in February alone, the Syrian government prevented 80,000 medical treatment items from going into besieged areas. Syrian citizens now rely on interference from the United States to help provide for humanitarian needs.

Although Congress cannot prevent these sieges from affecting the Syrian people as of right now, the United States has taken action by accepting approximately 12,500 refugees from Syria with the goal of resettlement. This number exceeds the Obama administration’s goal of resettling 10,000 Syrians, a huge accomplishment in itself.

The Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2017 would ensure a report is submitted to the appropriate congressional committees reporting on the war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, and would not cease until the Secretary of State determined that the violence in Syria has ceased. It would also ensure that USAID, the Department of Defense and other programs within the government are held accountable for their participation in the war crimes that are occurring in Syria.

The United States is the world’s largest donor to the Syrian humanitarian response, donating a total of $5.9 billion. However, the passing of this bill would allow the United States to assist much more in the well-being of the Syrian people. The next step for the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2017, since it has already passed the Senate, is to pass through the House of Representatives.

– Adrienne Tauscheck

Photo: Flickr

Syrian refugeesMost refugees around the world do not have access to monetary resources. This problem has affected their economy, by preventing them from getting cash for their basic needs and essential supplies like food and good quality shelter materials. Syrian refugees face this difficulty in Jordan, where more than 650,000 people have arrived since 2011.

However, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), along with private companies, created a new technological system that enables Syrian refugees to obtain cash assistance through intelligent ATMs around Jordan that identifies the user via iris detector.

UNHCR’s cash assistance program process is direct. First, the refugees’ irises are captured and registered. Then, families on the UNHCR cash waiting list are selected for assistance based on the Vulnerability Assessment Framework ranking. Finally, beneficiaries receive a text message which informs them when the cash is available for withdrawal.

This system, called EyeCloud, has helped over 39,000 households in Jordan, giving several advantages to Syrian refugees. For instance, the biometric recognition installed in the ATMs reduces fraud and increases refugee data protection. Another important feature of this process is that it can be made by the users without the mediation of a bank, increasing the number of beneficiaries. In addition, the UNHCR expects that the system will increase cash coordination with other humanitarian agencies around the world.

A small sample of Somali and Sudanese refugees tasted the EyeCloud system in 2015, and it was extended in Jordan the next year where $21 million was distributed among Syrians refugees. It is expected that this kind of project can help other refugees in areas where there are struggles to obtain basic needs.

The iris identification system is part of the UNHCR Biometric Identity Management System, a project that collects fingerprints, iris scans and photographs of refugees. This information is not only used to provide monetary aid but also to gather important information like citizenship records and dates of birth of the refugees. This makes future identification easier for various international institutions.

Due to the violence and civil war in Syria, more than 5 million people have been forced to flee. Countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have received thousands of Syrian refugees. The EyeCloud technology and ATMs will help refugees preserve their dignity, providing them with access to basic resources that are essential for their future.

Dario Ledesma

Photo: Flickr

Ethereum Blockchain in Jordan Is Changing How the United Nations Delivers Aid
Distributing aid within areas of conflict, especially those ruled by unstable authoritarian governments, has proven to be a struggle for organizations like the United Nations. These efforts are often plagued by a myriad of issues, such as the distribution of funds to individuals by relief agencies. The Ethereum blockchain in Jordan is shifting the paradigm.

Blockchain technologies, cryptocurrencies and digital banking, however, have the potential to alleviate many of these complications. On May 31, 2017, the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) completed the first successful large-scale trial of the Ethereum blockchain in Jordan to distribute humanitarian aid to Syria.

In order to fully understand the tangible effects that blockchain technology has on the lives of these individuals, it is first necessary to establish a basic background of what exactly this new platform is and what it can do.

Ethereum essentially lends itself to decentralized data recording, meaning that no single person or entity owns the final ledger. Instead, everyone who participates in the network becomes part of the record keeping process.

Blockchain, the technology behind the infamous cryptocurrency Bitcoin as well as Ethereum, has many other applications past transferring money between parties. Like Bitcoin, Ethereum acts as a distributed public blockchain network. However, while Bitcoin’s main application involves peer-to-peer exchange of payments, Ethereum blockchain focuses on both cryptocurrency, called Ether, as well as deploying decentralized applications. These applications generally contain smart contracts: computer codes that facilitate the exchange of money, content, property or anything else of value.

Ethereum offers an unprecedented capacity to carry out nonspecific applications, meaning that instead of just offering peer-to-peer transfer of digital currencies, Ethereum enables the development of potentially thousands of different applications on a single platform. Additionally, hacking and fraudulent activities are virtually impossible on a decentralized network like Ethereum.

Ethereum has many widespread applications, one of which includes legal identification. With current estimates suggesting that there are 1.1 billion people around the world with no official documentation, many of whom are refugees, aid organizations struggle to provide health, financial and educational services without proper identification.

While smartphones or Internet-capable devices are an obvious access point for the identification platform, the project implemented by the WFP was built under the assumption that its beneficiaries might not have access to such luxuries. Instead, the WFP made it possible for thousands of Syrian refugees to pay with a scan of their eyes using the Ethereum blockchain in Jordan.

In this month-long trial, instead of administering funds directly to the recipients, the WFP issued unspecified amounts of cryptocurrency-based vouchers to thousands of Syrian refugees. The U.N. allocated money to the merchants of participating stores where the coupons could be redeemed, effectively cutting out the banking middlemen in the aid distribution processes. Iris recognition devices verified the identities of the refugees at the supermarket in the Azraq camp in Jordan and deducted what they spent from the total sum the WFP provided.

By the end of May 2017, the Ethereum blockchain in Jordan was successfully used to record and authenticate transfers to about 10,000 individuals. WFP consultant Alexandra Alden helped oversee the implementation of this project and stated, “All funds received by the refugees from WFP were specifically used to purchase food items such as olive oil, pasta, and lentils.”

 

The Future of Ethereum Blockchain in Jordan and Beyond

 

In terms of future expansion, the WFP intends to include upwards of 100,000 individuals in Jordan in the program as early as August 2017, with hopes of serving the entire Jordanian refugee population by the end of 2018. If this expansion proves successful, the agency will look to expand beyond Jordan to other countries in need of aid.

Additionally, companies including Accenture and Microsoft have been working to design a more comprehensive digital ID network for the U.N. using blockchain technology.

Instead of just receiving food from local merchants, this identification network will provide undocumented refugees with unique identifiers called “stamps” that authenticate services received at camps or through other agencies, such as vaccinations. This system of record keeping will be tested in the near future.

While blockchain technology has the potential to serve the rest of society in various capacities, Ethereum offers those individuals who have been forced to renounce their identities over and over again the possibility of retaining important parts of who they are.

Richa Bijlani

Photo: Flickr