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> Posted by Kim Wilson

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How do refugees finance their journeys and which expenses need financing? This was the question that a team of us at Fletcher set out to answer in our study “The Financial Journey of Refugees.” We studied the routes and financial challenges of more than 100 refugees in Greece, Jordan and Turkey, between July 2016 and April 2017. The refugees we interviewed had traveled from South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, East Africa and West Africa.

Regardless of their country of origin, with the exception of Syria, a refugee’s biggest expense was the cost of hiring a smuggler. Smuggling expenses ran about 85 percent of the total cost of the journey. The smuggler’s fee included important services: travel by air or overland, depending on the refugee’s budget, guide services across borders, payment of bribes at border crossings, and documentation falsification expenses. Smuggling prices varied widely by country of origin (some borders being porous, others sealed tight), by how deluxe a trip was (air versus ground), by numbers of borders crossed (affecting the number of falsified IDs required). To give an example, journeying overland from Afghanistan through Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey to Greece might cost $7,500 per person, a price that went up or down based on shifting rules and border crackdowns. Traveling from Eritrea to Greece might cost the same amount. Traveling from Syria to Turkey could cost as little as $500.

The price of the journey was one factor in a traveler’s safety – the higher the cost, the better the traveling modes, and the safer the travel. While what refugees paid their smuggler was important, how they paid them was equally important. Did the refugee pre-pay the kingpin smuggler in advance of the journey? Did she post-pay him after arriving safely in Greece or Germany? Did she pay leg by leg? All these strategies were in play and we outline them in our report summary and they are detailed by the refugees themselves in a Compendium of Field Notes. Below we describe two of many strategies.

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> Posted by Chris Wolff

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At long last, Game of Thrones (GoT) has returned to our world!

Showing us ways the realm can collide with our realities, the cast’s appearance on Conan at last year’s Comic-Con drew attention to care for refugees fleeing Syria with the IRC. So here’s an allegory global citizens can follow: “Game of Thrones: Financial Inclusion edition!”

To play this game, start by identifying which character best embodies your own industry or strategy. Here’s a rundown of all the actors that can alleviate poverty in various manners.

Banks = Lannisters. As the major incumbents with the most money and power, in both worlds they’re a strong ally, but better make sure your interests stay aligned. I’m not referring to the villainy or goodness of individual characters, but as a family house you have to admit the kingdom hasn’t run without them. And as with the rivals who take Tyrion in and listen to his counsel, wouldn’t you want such a seconded expert able to understand multiple perspectives and models?

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Specialist, CFI

A record number of people, more than ever in our lifetimes, are fleeing their homes due to wars, persecution, and disasters. Nearly 20 people are forcibly displaced every minute, amounting to 28,300 people each day. Roughly 65 million people are currently displaced worldwide, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. This figure is about the size of the population of France or the United Kingdom. About 22 million of the displaced are refugees (displaced across country borders). And more than half of whom are under the age of 18.

Today on World Refugee Day, we call on the international community to provide compassion for the displaced and support and solidarity for those working tirelessly to help them. It’s an opportunity to reflect on what we can do to overcome inaction, indifference, and fear.

Two areas in need of attention, as today’s news has so painfully affirmed, are enhanced water rescue operations and more viable and safer alternatives for those in need of international protection. Today we learned that several ships that disembarked from the coast of Libya over the weekend sank and more than 120 refugees are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

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> Posted by Kim Wilson

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Predictably, the long tentacles of financial inclusion have coiled themselves around the most vulnerable targets of humanitarian aid: low income refugees, migrants and displaced populations (hereon: “refugees”).

Just as predictably, the financial inclusion agenda is driven by suppliers (aid providers, donors, financial intermediaries and governments). Few refugees are demanding to be included in a digital/formal ecosystem. That does not mean they don’t appreciate the shelter, food and cash that humanitarian agencies have mustered on their behalf. They do. They also appreciate the efforts of those same agencies to make cash assistance easier. E-cash that can be transformed into physical cash at convenient times and places is an example. Use of debit cards at ATMs to withdraw cash from digital accounts can cut valuable time otherwise spent waiting in long cash distribution queues. Very appreciated, indeed.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

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If you had to embark on a journey similar to that of the 65 million people who are currently forcibly displaced, what would you bring? Most likely among your provisions would be a smartphone. Phones are the contemporary map and compass, a gateway to critical information, a means for keeping in touch with loved ones, and a financial toolkit. More and more, aid workers are witnessing refugees arriving at camps with smartphones. For both the refugee journey and the post-journey settlement process, a phone can be vital. With this in mind, you might not be surprised to learn that mobile money usage among refugees, including for cash transfers from governments and NGOs, is on the rise.

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> Posted by Lizzy Bolze, Analyst, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

The following post was originally published on the Accion blog. 

Accion client Ma San Htwe selling fish in Myanmar, one of the key areas discussed at European Microfinance Week 2016.

European Microfinance Platform is celebrating 10 years of supporting inclusive finance innovation, and hosted European Microfinance Week 2016 (EMW) in Luxembourg a few weeks ago. At the conference, I joined discussions about key organizations and challenges in the industry. Here are five of the main takeaways from the week:

1. The Underserved Refugee Population

The Social Performance Task Force (SPTF) is helping to provide financial services to the refugee population, which is now approximately 20 million people. In reality we don’t know very much about the socioeconomic needs of refugees, and much of the research is focused on humanitarian efforts. SPTF is working to research and provide guidelines to financial service providers to better serve the financial needs of this population. The guidelines will be published on SPTF’s website in the coming months. Learn more about leading organizations supporting refugees from CFI’s blog series on refugees.

2. Opportunity in Myanmar

Representatives from VisionFund, Advans, UNCDF, and M-CRIL provided a look at the economic landscape of Myanmar and the future of financial inclusion there. In Myanmar, 70 percent of the population was excluded from formal financial services until 2011, when microfinance rapidly expanded. After 2011, 267 licensed Monetary Financial Institutions (MFIs) opened. This opportunity comes with many barriers to inclusion, such as a lack of government regulation and funds and capacity-building issues. However, there is widespread optimism with an adoption of regulations proposed by the Smart Campaign, as well as further demand for microfinance in Myanmar. Investors should consider moving into the region for long term impact.

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> Posted by Daniel Balson, Lead Specialist for Eurasia and MENA, the Smart Campaign

This is the fourth and final blog entry in a series exploring how financial services can be leveraged to assist refugee populations. This entry will consider the future of refugee financial services and what our sector can do to ensure that the future is an inclusive one that serves genuine needs and protects refugee rights.

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Syrian refugees shop at a market with their bank card given by the Turkish Red Crescent.

It is worth asking whether the financial inclusion sector is at the forefront of the movement to financially include refugees. The humanitarian sector has long struggled to determine how to provide assistance during a crisis in a way that is sustainable, effective, and accountable. Recently, humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have begun considering whether it’s possible to use payments as an on-ramp for financial inclusion of refugees. Cash transfers have historically facilitated corruption and failed to make it into the hands of the people who needed it most. In-kind donations of goods such as tents, food, sleeping material and other items undermined local merchants who made their livelihoods selling these very goods. In response, the sector has begun experimenting with digital financial payments. In Afghanistan, for example, the World Food Program (WFP) has issued e-vouchers and mobile money to cover food aid. The first e-voucher pilot was carried out on a small user base of 603 recipients in Kabul for a three-month disbursement cycle from April to June 2014. The total value of e-vouchers disbursed was US$72,360. The program proved successful and the WFP launched several follow-on pilots across the country in the subsequent year.

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> Posted by the Social Performance Task Force (SPTF)

The following is the third post in a four-part blog series on the financial inclusion of refugees and the internally displaced. The first post can be found here, and the second here.

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Overview of refugee populations in Lebanon

The multi-cultural and open economy of Lebanon is no stranger to the need to accommodate refugees. Over the years, Lebanon, which has a population of roughly 6 million, has generously maintained an open border policy and has, until restrictions were introduced in 2014-15 following the very large influx of Syrian refugees, permitted refugees to settle temporarily but freely across the country. The country’s experience in providing financial services to these refugees and internally displaced persons offers insights for financial institutions around the world on serving these vulnerable global populations.

Lebanon’s refugee populations are diverse. The largest refugee group is Palestinian, around half of whom live in the 12 recognized Palestine refugee camps. From Iraq, about 50,000 refugees arrived after American-launched military operations in Iraq in 2003. Many of the Iraqi refugees were at one time middle-class professionals who have self-settled in urban areas in Lebanon. Syrians, who have a long history as migrant workers in Lebanon, have never been counted as foreign workers, and many were known to work in Lebanon before the war in Syria. But when civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, an unprecedented number of Syrians emigrated to Lebanon. As of October 2015, close to 1.1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon had registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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> Posted by Daniel Balson, Lead Specialist for Eurasia and MENA, The Smart Campaign

The following is the second post in a four-part blog series on the financial inclusion of refugees and the internally displaced. The first post can be found here.

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In 1992, sporadic clashes between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the mountainous region of Nagorno Karabakh erupted into full scale war. By the time a ceasefire was reached two years later, the territory lay under Armenian control, and between 800,000 and 1 million Azerbaijanis were displaced from their homes. Since the end of hostilities, ethnic Azerbaijani internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled from Armenian-controlled to Azerbaijani-controlled territory have continued to face difficulties accessing economic opportunity. However, a financial sector inclusive to IDPs is emerging, lessening these difficulties and demonstrating that IDPs can be a bankable client segment.  Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Daniel Balson, Lead Specialist for Eurasia and MENA, The Smart Campaign

The following is the first post in a four-part blog series on the financial inclusion of refugees and the internally displaced.

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The unresolved Syrian conflict and the slow collapse of nation-states on Europe’s periphery have brought the topic of refugees back into the media spotlight. Whereas previously, refugees were often seen as a problem of the Global South, events have now brought migrants to Europe’s doorstop, forcing OECD countries to consider new strategies to provide for and integrate this population. Yet as refugee assistance becomes a hot topic once again, old myths and fictions have reemerged. Refugees are often described as highly transitory populations with few marketable skills who will inevitably rely on long-term government assistance. But these stereotypes are frequently inaccurate.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.