Article 6 min

Mobile’s Impact on Refugees and Displaced People

refugees and displaced people
Migrant Selfie refugees and displaced people
The Migrant Selfie: A powerful example of how refugees are using smartphones to keep in touch. (CNN)

As ongoing armed conflicts around the world intensify, particularly in the Middle East, the number of families and people who are displaced as refugees continues to rise at a rapid pace. These refugees all have a common goal: to seek a better life away from the dangerous tension and strife. And their numbers are growing. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the refugee agency run by the UN, noted in its latest statistical report that the total number of refugees worldwide is estimated at 15.1 million, the highest level in 20 years. Nearly half of all refugees in the world today come from either Syria (4.2 million) or Afghanistan (2.6 million).

As the largest single group, Syrian refugees and their plight has been making news headlines on a continual basis as they make their way from the Middle East into Europe with the hope of finding a new home. Many European nations have graciously welcomed them, providing them with the chance to begin new lives.

However, with these new lives, there comes a new set of challenges. Humanitarian aid is often given in the form of monetary payments in order to provide the newly settled refugees with the ability to purchase what they need most urgently for their families. Eventually, as those who find employment begin to earn money and become more self-sufficient, how are they able to gain access to financial services? In many cases, refugees fled their former homes without official identity documentations and other important records. Even if they were able to bring these documents with them to their new home country, the government may not have access to the technology and data to authenticate or verify their identities.

Build upon Existing Networks

Rather than creating brand new solutions from scratch, it makes far more sense to work with what has already been created. In the case of Syrian refugees, a 21st-century problem should have a 21st-century answer. A New York Times article published in August 2015 provided some insightful observations of how the smartphone has become an essential item along with food and shelter. Many refugees will buy a new SIM card for their smartphone each time that they enter a new country in order to navigate and find their way to the next border. In effect, smartphones have replaced the map and compass.

“Every time I go to a new country, I buy a SIM card and activate the Internet and download the map to locate myself,” said a Syrian refugee.

Along with using smartphones as navigation tools, they have also become essential for communications with loved ones who may be trying to reach refugees. Rather than using expensive long-distance minutes to place phone calls to someone who may not be available to take a call at that moment, social media has taken a lead role in connecting refugees with family elsewhere.

To demonstrate how digitally connected refugees have become, the UNHCR published an article of how they were able to successfully use both social media and text messages to reach out to Syrian refugees at the Za’atari camp in Jordan. Beginning with a Facebook page launch in September 2012 and a Twitter account in late 2013, the Za’atari camp community is now able to reliably receive updates from the UNHCR and also communicate directly with the agency to voice complaints or questions.

Now that we’ve established that “How can #socialmedia help provide access to financial services for refugees? via @trulioo_jon #financialinclusion”] Syrian refugees not only use smartphones but also are highly engaged on social media networks, how can these factors be leveraged to build greater financial inclusion for them?

Mobile Phones Refugees

The Mobile Money Factor

In developing countries like Indonesia and Tanzania, where financial inclusion levels and the number of citizens with government-issued identity documents are low, mobile money is gaining significant ground as a viable and trusted means of doing business. And now, as mobile money and mobile payments keep growing in popularity, there is yet another reliable source of data that can be used to assess risk and credit worthiness.

What are some of the key benefits of mobile money for refugees?

Cross-border capabilities

An established mobile money system can provide a centralized, cross-border, and transparent capability for verifying individuals that are recent arrivals to a country for whatever reason. The account information and transaction history linked to a specific SIM card can be used as a form of identity data when traditional identity documents are not available.

Eligibility for other services

Through the use of mobile money and the associated transaction data created, ongoing verification of individuals can open the door to more services. This can provide access to mobile money transfer, remittance, loans, and other financial services.

Greater reliability by combining forces

A trusted global data framework that incorporates traditional as well as non-traditional data assets provides greater assurance and proof of identity than by using either type of data on its own. Mobile data enhances identity verification by adding the ability to verify someone based on their mobile activity.

Enhancing Financial Inclusion

At Trulioo, we are determined to help tackle the problem of a lack of financial inclusion for the world’s disadvantaged. Leveraging an individual’s cyber identity (ID), which can be defined as an aggregation of their online interactions, offers new opportunities for the underserved market to participate in the global economy.

[tweet_dis excerpt=”People are more digitally connected worldwide, especially as mobile phones become more accessible & affordable”]People around the world are becoming more digitally connected, especially as mobile technology becomes more accessible and affordable.[/tweet_dis] An individual’s cyber identity profile, when combined with traditional identity verification data sources, can play a key role in helping address the very basic question, ‘Does this person exist? Is this person who he or she claims to be?

The key concept behind proving one’s online identity is establishing trust. Incorporating cyber ID data as part of the identity verification process will strengthen the ability to build trust through leveraging more diverse data sources.

What other opportunities do you see for using cyber ID data in regards to displaced people?