Viewpoint: How Mobile Banking Can Protect Refugees
Thursday, February 4, 2016
“Mean spirited”, “inhumane” and desecrating the spirit of the Refugee Convention are some of the milder criticisms levelled at Denmark’s harsh new asylum laws, passed last week. Among new measures is a decision to strip new arrivals of any cash and valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner (US$1,450), purportedly to pay for their upkeep. Switzerland and some southern German states have introduced similar policies.
It’s a move that reflects the fragmenting world of European migrationpolicy, lacking in solidarity, empathy and basic human decency. But what of the financial implications for asylum seekers?
I wondered whether innovative mobile financial services could protect migrants and their assets — not just at the Danish border but throughout migration routes. To find out more, I rang Nando Sigona, a migration researcher at Birmingham University in the United Kingdom. Sigona jointly leads MEDMIG, an international research project that aims to produce the first large-scale study of Mediterranean migration, based on interviews with 500 migrants.
Sigona explains that, to move money around, refugees tend to use a mixture of informal money brokers, borrowed bank accounts, hard cash and valuables such as gold or jewellery. All these systems are open to grotesque abuse by the criminals who feed off the refugee crisis, and bribery and robbery are common. Even where people have temporary access to a bank account, there are stories of people never getting their money back or being charged huge fees.