The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is detailing some of its 2020 accomplishments in its mission to improve financial inclusion. The agency called particular attention to its policy of Cash-Based Interventions (CBI), which places liquid capital in the hands of displaced refugees.
In the past, such interventions involved the exchange of physical cash. However, the UNHCR is hoping that mobile money services will raise accountability and make CBI programs more convenient and more secure. The organization has moved forward with digital payment programs in 47 countries, in many cases partnering with local financial services providers and telecommunications companies to facilitate the distribution of funds.
Thirty-two percent of those countries have set up some kind of mobile money program. The UNHCR has prioritized local partnerships because it allows refugees to establish themselves and contribute to the local economy over time. In that regard, the UNHCR noted that the latest Financial Action Task Force (FATF) guidelines recognize refugee documents as valid proof of identity when opening a bank account, which removes one of the primary legal barriers facing refugees who may not have any other form of identification.
Of course, financial inclusion goes hand-in-hand with digital inclusion, since people cannot take advantage of mobile money if they do not have access to mobile services. To that end, the UNHCR highlighted the ongoing efforts of the GSMA, which has undertaken multiple digital accessibility initiatives to make sure that more people are able to enjoy the benefits of the world’s modern communications infrastructure. Mobile technology will also make it easier and safer to distribute funds, since it will enable contactless transactions and eliminate the health risks of cash during the pandemic.
The UNHCR has previously used biometrics to verify people’s identities for its Cash-Based Intervention schemes. For example, the agency used IrisGuard’s EyePay Cash iris recognition platform to facilitate a remittances program for refugees in Egypt. That project was carried out in collaboration with the Egypt National Post, which speaks to the agency’s desire to work with members of the local ecosystem.