Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments worldwide have increased policy support for digital financial services, including by waiving fees and allowing remote onboarding to both allow for greater social distancing and support resilience in the midst of a major economic crisis.
This research report - based on findings in refugee contexts in Jordan, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia - finds that digital services such as mobile money can in theory be more accessible for refugees than standard bank accounts, in practice refugees continue to face barriers. These services are often new and underdeveloped and therefore untested, or refugees are only permitted a restricted form of access. Even though digital services are likely to become more important given the ‘new normal’ and continued need for socially distanced services, this transition is only starting, and refugees need to be included in mainstream and fully developed financial services.
We therefore urge national governments and regulators, donors, humanitarians and financial service providers to address both structural and practical barriers to refugees’ financial and economic inclusion and consider their specific needs.
National governments and regulators should ensure refugees can access mainstream financial services and make refugees a target group in National Financial Inclusion policies
Donors should advocate for full economic and financial inclusion of refugees in policy dialogue with host countries; invest in programs that educate refugees on financial services and financial literacy; and take action to close the digital divide.
Humanitarian practitioners should share market data and research on refugees’ financial needs to de-risk financial service providers’ investments, and advance a common understanding on the risks and benefits of extending access of financial services to refugees.
Financial service providers should authorize the use of alternative forms of government-issued refugee identification documents for accessing services, and collaborate with humanitarian partners to tailor financial products to specific refugee contexts.