At the end of World War I, a vast sea of migrants uprooted by the hostilities, the breakup of empires and the collapse of regimes, flooded the European continent. Displaced Russians, Greeks, Turks, Armenians, to name only a few, were scattered in various parts of Europe and left stranded. As the international community struggled to assist these people, a common element plagued the efforts: identity. How were government representatives to establish and verify the identity of the migrants? As has been pointed out elsewhere, “An identity is essential for nearly everything needed in a crisis – securing shelter, accessing services, crossing borders, and receiving funds. These are challenging enough when you’re distressed by displacement; they’re exponentially so when you don’t have an identity.”

Professor Michael Barutciski, of Glendon College, York University in Toronto, an expert on refugee matters, indicates that a key issue for dealing with migrants has always been their identity.

According to Michael Barutciski, a professor at Glendon College, at York University and an expert on refugee matters, “The international community, and in particular the nation states that have been saddled with the responsibility of looking after migrants, have faced this problem from the end of World War I even until today.” Today, many forcibly displaced persons are among the one billion people around the world who lack any form of government recognized ID. The UNCHR and the World Bank are leading the effort to establish a means of providing these lost souls with a means of establishing a verifiable identity. This is one of the central messages contained in the 10 Principles on ID for Sustainable Development that both organizations have endorsed, along with over 20 other international, philanthropic, academic, and private sector organizations.

A new initiative in this area is to use the blockchain  to help refugees build their identities. Refugees entering a UNCHR camp, for example, are issued documentation but that documentation isn’t well tracked after leaving the camp. Adding this information to a blockchain would help to create a record, proving the refugee’s identity as they move from one place to another even if they relocate to a new country. The need for better data collection and analysis are key features of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration which is scheduled to be approved in an international conference to be convened in Morroco on December 10th, 2018 and the Global Compact on Refugees which was approved by the U.N. by 176 states with the exception of the U.S. on November 13th, 2018.

According to UNICEF, “While there are ongoing efforts to strengthen data collection and analysis at both the global and country levels, far more needs to be done. As Member States work towards finalizing these two agreements, the five agencies and partners urge them to address the evidence gaps and include the rights, protection and wellbeing of children as central commitments in the final texts. If these gaps are not addressed, it will be impossible to implement and monitor the Compacts and the impact they could have for children on the move.”