Last week, heads of state and business, international organizations, and United Nations leaders convened in New York for the 71st UN General Assembly. High on the agenda was the urgent need to address the growing refugee crisis, which has found 65.3 million people around the world forced from their homes due to political conflict and persecution. More than 21 million of those people have crossed international borders and are considered refugees – the majority of them are women and children.
Over the course of the General Assembly solutions were offered, commitments were made, and declarations were signed. But in a crisis of this proportion, the likes of which we haven’t seen since World War II, how do we turn promises into action? How do we begin to make a real impact?
I recently returned from Greece where a colleague and I were invited by our partner Mercy Corps to visit refugee camps to better understand the needs within the communities and what we can do to impact the crisis. Those needs extend beyond the refugees themselves to the host communities that welcomed them.
Witnessing first-hand the magnitude of this crisis – truly a global problem that threatens to overwhelm the world – I was reminded of a quote by Helen Keller: “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”
The reality is, this crisis is far too big for any one entity to fix on its own, but together there is much that can be done.
U.S. President Barack Obama conveyed this sentiment when he issued a call-to-action that brought together 51 private companies at his Leaders’ Summit for Refugees. Fifteen firms – including Mastercard – were founding members of this effort because our work didn’t begin at the event but has been underway for some time. We are heartened that another 36 firms have answered the President’s call and we encourage even more to step forward.
Public and private entities, working in partnership in sustainable and mutually beneficial ways, will be the key to the moving the needle on progress. We also know that progress comes by being focused and retaining a sense of urgency.
That’s why, in follow up to the General Assembly, we are bringing together global industry leaders, UN agencies, international organizations, academics, media, technology companies and others to open the dialogue around a specific, actionable solution – one that we believe can help tackle many of the challenges facing refugees and the countries supporting them: remittances.
Unlike migrants who often find economic opportunity and employment in their new homes, refugees are typically barred from doing so. In many countries, refugees are unable to open a bank account due to a lack of proper identification. This is especially problematic for women. Without access to finances the quality of care they can provide for their children and themselves decreases drastically and places a heavy burden on host communities.
We believe remittances are a lifeline for the displaced and could provide a much-needed economic boost to the countries hosting refugee communities. When individuals have greater access and control over their funds, this leads to more inclusive communities, financially stable economies, and greater resilience. A cross-country study of 71 developing countries found that a 10% increase in per capita official remittances would produce a 3.5% decline in share of people living in poverty.
Imagine what such a flow of funds could do to improve the plight of refugees. For the most part, remittances are used for basic needs such as food, clothing, and housing or investing in education or healthcare – all critical needs for refugees. The summary is simple: People being able to spend their money on the things they need in the local marketplace is good for everyone.
But, there are a number of hurdles to making remittances accessible to refugees and a clearer understanding is needed around the dynamics of this.
Next week, Mastercard will hold a roundtable discussion, in collaboration with the UN Foundation, on the opportunities and barriers to providing refugees with access to remittances. The discussion will address four critical questions:
- What are opportunities and obstacles to delivering remittances to refugees and IDPs?
- How can we bring partners together to enable safe and transparent delivery of remittances to the world’s most contentious places?
- What is the most efficient and dignified way to deliver remittances to refugees and IDPs?
- How do alternative remittance systems like hawala factor into the solution?
Our goal is to extend the conversation started last week and ensure we remain laser focused on taking actionable steps to alleviate refugees’ greatest pain points. From education to employment and healthcare to housing, remittances have the potential to open up access to all of these critical needs. Remittances could be the lifeline that makes the difference.