Lindsay Poss, Emily Rosen
Addressing Refugees’ Documentation Crisis with Technology

Problem Statement:
After Shelly Culbertson’s talk, we were inspired to further research the screening process at refugee camps. There are a slew of issues in the Middle Eastern territories that have been affected by ISIS, including serious problems with documentation and proof of identity. It is difficult for the government to correctly and uniformly screen citizens, and it is difficult for citizens to obtain the proper paperwork required for screening. This often leads to refugee camps turning into “internment camps,” where documents are seized and refugee movement is restricted in hopes of preventing radicalist actions. We also want to take an in-depth look at the problems caused by lack of proper documentation, for example: limited access to education, job opportunities, and health care.

Our research will focus on three areas: 1) understanding the root causes of the “documentation crisis,” 2) reviewing direct and indirect challenges associated with loss of identification and 3) exploring potential technological solutions.

Solution Approach:
We first plan on gathering the appropriate amount of literature and doing an in-depth literature review. Following that, we will focus on how technology can work to solve the current issues with screening, examining the potential use of blockchain technology.
The work will be divided evenly among the following tasks:
  • Background and current state (explanation of why there is a documentation crisis; why IDs are being taken away, why it is difficult to obtain new documentation), 8-10 hours
  • Challenges to providing new documentation and not retaining old documentation, individual's limitations due to lack of documentation, 14-16 hours
  • Technological solutions that are currently utilized or being prototyped for future use, 8-10 hours
  • Recommendations for improving technologies to provide refugees with reliable documentation and an identity, 6-8 hours

Brief Literature Review:

Karas, Tania. “Not Syrian, Not Turkish: Refugees Fleeing War Lack Documentation.” Al Jazeera America. September 24, 2015.

Lack of documentation leads to many problems in the case of newborns. Refugees who give birth in camps or housing that is outside of their own country often do not have the paperwork required to obtain legal status for children born in their refugee country. Surrounding countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan) have strict identification requirements for work, healthcare, and education which severely limits both refugees and children lacking proper documentation.

Roberts, John J. “Microsoft and Accenture Unveil Global ID System for Refugees.“ Fortune 500. June 19, 2016.

This article briefly discusses a new technological approach designed to address refugees’ documentation crisis. “The tool, developed in part by Microsoft and Accenture, combines biometric data (like a fingerprint or an iris scan) and a new form of record-keeping technology, known as the blockchain, to create a permanent identity” for individuals who have been displaced.

“Securing Status: Syrian Refugees and the Documentation of Legal Status, Identity, and Family Relationships in Jordan.” Norweigan Refugee Council and International Human Rights Clinic. November 2016.

“This report describes Syrian refugees’ experiences obtaining government-issued identity cards and birth and marriage certificates outside the camps – documentation that enables refugees to prove their legal status, identity, and family relationships in Jordan.
This report outlines the relevant official processes, the challenges refugees encounter, and the consequences faced by those who lack documentation.“

Expected Outcomes:
Our expected outcome is a detailed literature review and a few (around 3) comprehensive recommendations on improving the documentation process for refugees. We hope that if this work were to be used, International Aid organizations will look at use our research and recommendations to improve current documentation processes. Throughout this research, we seek to bring a deeper understanding of the refugee crisis to ourselves and to our classmates through our presentation.

Documentation Crisis
Syrian Refugees' Documentation Crisis
Making Victory Count After Defeating ISIS (RAND paper)
Securing Status: Syrian refugees and the documentation of legal status, identity and family relationships in Jordan
Identity Documents for Refugees
Registering rights: Syrian refugees and the documentation of births, marriages, and deaths in Jordan
Stuck in legal limbo
Not Syrian, not Turkish: Refugees fleeing war lack documentation

Blockchain Technology
Microsoft and Accenture Unveil Global ID System for Refugees
How Blockchain Could Help Refugees with Proof of Identity

Other Technology
UNHCR: Identity Management System Uses Biometrics to Better Serve Refugees
UNHCR: Innovate Identity Management System Uses Biometrics to Better Serve Refugees (two separate reports about this project)
The Development of Legal Databases in Refugee Work