Humanitarian organizations, both governmental and NGO, have been using digital and biometric tools to meet the challenges of financial inclusion for refugees. One of the significant challenges to providing both financial and direct assistance with food and shelter to refugees in war zones and camps is the chaotic nature of a society experiencing war and civil disruption. Corruption and personal risk make central distribution points dangerous for both support staff and refugees. More difficult to measure, but equally important issues of privacy and respect make new digital payments and e-vouchers, with biometric identification tools, effective means to provide financial inclusion and assistance to refugees.
The World Food Program successfully trialled an e-voucher program in Afghanistan to provide food assistance. They used either a fingerprint scan or chip and pin system, which helped issues of privacy and literacy. In Lebanon, a distribution network of merchants and ATM allow the use of pre-paid debit cards for the refugee population, allowing them to get what they need and interact with the host population with a degree of privacy and respect.
Challenges remain for this population, as they lose their credit history in the new host country, and tend to have few assets and collateral when they arrive. They may also be challenged by an inability to provide identification and documentation, and fear that identification will bring political reprisals.
There are a number of tools already being used with unbanked populations that can be adapted to serve refugees, specifically those designed to establish credit and offer opportunities for savings. Mobile microfinance providers and digital wallets are already being used, but outreach efforts and new biometric identifiers need to be carefully introduced. In countries where people fear being identified by the government, such as areas with a history of ethnic violence, security of the databases need to be carefully considered. There may be identification systems that are more secure, but still allow people to maintain privacy.
The challenges that financial inclusion brings to a society damaged by war and civil unrest are significant. New technologies can be adapted to meet the specific needs of this population. The successful inclusion of refugees into host countries can bring benefits for everyone, across the board, as diverse population learn from each other and invigorate an economy and society.
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