Managing finances is challenging for most people, but it is truly daunting for migrants and refugees. They face numerous hurdles that range from obtaining the right documents to securing permission to work—obstacles that limit both their income and their opportunities to make longer-term investments.

Between 2019 and 2021, the IRC partnered with Catholic University Eichstaett-Ingolstadt and Tufts University for the Finance in Displacement (FIND) research project, which interviewed over 280 forcibly displaced persons (FDPs) in JordanKenyaUganda and Mexico. The final report brings to light the challenges FDPs face in accessing economic opportunities and puts forth a financial health framework for measuring progress against these challenges.

Access to financial services can contribute to financial health but it is not the only factor. We see that refugees have more chances to improve their livelihoods when they can exercise fundamental economic rights such as the right to work, to move freely and to access documentation in their host countries.  This in turn increases demand for varied formal financial services. But many barriers remain to access these formal services, such as documentation and language challenges and discrimination. Refugees are often only given access to limited or nascent services that aren’t widely used by the host population.

For a vast majority of our respondents financial health remains elusive. We therefore recommend that:

Host countries, with financial and technical support from the international community, should make urgent further progress in addressing regulatory barriers to work, movement, documentation and gender equality.

Financial regulators in collaboration with financial service providers need to make efforts to further assess and address regulatory barriers for refugees to access mainstream financial services, including those related to documentation or unintended consequences of AML/CFT measures.

You can read further stories from respondents in the newsletter series here.

This project is facilitated by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and Open Society Foundations.