Meet the entrepreneurs using fintech to help refugees

Lucia Gallardo, CEO of Emerge, in Tijuana, Mexico in 2018. Photo provided by Lucia Gallardo

ROME, – Berat Kjamili has vivid memories of queuing for days outside a government building in Turkey for papers that would allow him – an 18-year-old refugee from North Macedonia – to legally reside and study in the country.

“There were 1,000 people there and I couldn’t get in. The next day I went at 6 a.m. and still I couldn’t get my papers. The third day, I slept on the street that night (to beat the queue),” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

The experience led him to build a website where refugees can apply for residency permits. It is now operated by the Turkish government.

Kjamili, 27, is part of a generation of refugees who have set up fintech firms to help other refugees and migrants send money, access paperwork and share information about housing and jobs.

Often working in shops, cafes and factories, refugees have been harder hit by coronavirus-triggered job cuts than citizens in their host countries, U.S. development groups said on Wednesday.

Businesses like Kjamili’s could play a key role in helping refugees to integrate amid a global pandemic that, according to the United Nations, has increased xenophobia and led to a surge in evictions.

LOCKED OUT

Among the world’s 30 million refugees and asylum seekers are many who lack bank accounts and have only intermittent access to Internet and mobile phones.

More than 1 billion people worldwide lack government-issued credentials to prove their identity, which can result in “social, economic, and political exclusion”, UNHCR said in a recent report. 

Refugees given ID cards by the United Nations on arrival in a new country have limited ways to partake in the economy, said Hanna Mattinen, a senior officer in the agency’s cash aid team.

“In the vast majority of cases, with this ID… they can’t open bank account, they don’t have access to SIM cards,” she said.

As businesses go cashless and require card payments – a drive hastened by COVID-19 – refugees and migrants could be left “locked out of the system”, said Marta Zaccagnini, Program Manager Europe for Village Capital, an organisation supporting impact-driven start-ups.

A NEW BANK

Roham Soleimani, an Iranian refugee in Berlin, is hoping his company BankeNu – Nu means new in Persian – could help. The 28-year-old is working on a blockchain-based service that would allow people to transfer money from anywhere.  

“It’s a big opportunity to help people like us. To give opportunity to people who suffer sanctions, the un-banked, the migrant communities… and offer the services with low fees,” he said.  

Soleimani set up a marketing agency that helped secure European wages for Iranian freelance designers back home.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200709093832-5q87i/