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Cryptocurrency technology may help Rohingya refugees get identification for the first time

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More than million Rohingya refugees have fled their home country of Burma, also known as Myanmar, during what United Nation officials are calling the world's fastest growing humanitarian crisis. Though many of them have been taken in by neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, they remain a stateless people--meaning they don't have citizenship.

That lack of documentation creates additional obstacles for the already persecuted people, especially when it comes to education, medical treatments and access to financial services.

"We inherit a lot of problems being stateless. One of them is not having to prove who we are, who is our family, who is our relatives, where we belong to and so on. Nothing that can actually legitimize us or prove ourselves or prove our identities."
Muhammad Noor, co-founder of The Rohingya Project

Muhammad Noor knows just how traumatizing it is to be forcibly removed from your country. As a Rohingya himself, his family left Burma in the 1970s as the government began to crack down on the Muslim minority. But, at the same time, he says he recognizes his fortune. Unlike many Rohingya refugees, he was able to obtain the proper documentation to eventually go on and live a relatively stable life.

As the co-founder of The Rohingya Project, Muhammad hopes to help his fellow Rohingya people obtain identification using an unprecedented approach: cryptocurrency technology.

Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies, rely on what's called a blockchain--an incorruptible public ledger that allows individuals to record anything of value. Tech experts tout its ability to be managed by the people, as opposed to one institution or person, and to withstand manipulation.

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Muhammad refers to the blockchain platform as the "perfect technology" to help empower the Rohingya people, who, have been forced to rely on humanitarian handouts since the crisis began to escalate in 2015.

"The first initiative is to bring dignity to the Rohingya themselves," he continued. "[These] people have been removed form the face of Earth by force and then removed from the map, removed from all the services, [and they] will start to appear on the map."

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Similar to obtaining any other identification, the Rohingyas will undergo a cultural and/or linguistic test in order to prove that they're genuine Rohingya.

"Because ultimately Rohingyas don't have any kind of document to prove that they're Rohingyan," Muhammad added.

Once parents are in the system, Muhammad says, it will be easier for descendants to obtain the documentation.

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The payoff is huge for what Muhammad describes as a forgotten people. "So here you have proof of ID. This is who I am. This is my name. This is my gender. This is where I belong to and this is my age. Today, no Rohingyan can prove this is my son or mother, cannot prove that this is my daughter or son."

As part of the project's soft launch, Muhammand and his colleagues will work to help about 1,000 Rohingyas into the system. At first, he says he'll concentrate on the countries that are absorbing the most impact from the ongoing crisis: Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia. If all goes well, he hopes to see the project expand to more Rohingyas in other countries.

"I believe that this project, especially The Rohingya Project, has huge, tremendous potential to grow into something really big becuase it's going to address a serious problem," he said.

Check out Circa's other coverage of the Rohingya crisis:
Rights groups say they have evidence Rohingya villages are being burned to the ground
The rape of Rohingya women by Myanmar's security forces is 'sweeping' and 'methodical'
A drone captured the plight of the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar

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