Western Union and Mastercard explore Digital Payments in Kakuma Refugee Camp

Refugees are now being perceived as being very beneficial to countries, in that they are emerging economies with their own rights and role to play in national economies. It is for this reason that Mastercard and Western Union have formed partnerships to turn these communities into new customers.

Kakuma refugee camp is located in Kakuma town in the northwestern county of Turkana. Established in 1991, the camp’s role was to host 12,000 minors who had fled war-stricken Sudan. Currently, based on the UNHCR statistics, the camp has over 164,000 registered refugees. Further, the NGO notes that hosted in the camp, are at least 500 merchants who sell electronics, hardware, clothes and various farm produce.

This is why Mastercard and Western Union are working to build a digital infrastructure for the refugees. Kenya has received the privilege of being the test bed on the digital infrastructure which focuses on cards, digital vouchers, and mobile money. The move is set to get intermediaries out of the equation as well as losses attributed to in-kind donations and thus give control to the beneficiaries by bringing funds directly to them.

The two companies are planning to use the digital voucher program by Mastercard to provide chip cards to the Kakuma community. A card holder would then use ‘points’ which would be loaded onto the cards to make daily purchases.

International Rescue Committee economic programs for a cash initiatives deputy director, Gregory Matthews, said that management of money by refugees is done is various ways such as the aid reception in the form of cash, using money transfer services such as Western Union while others are issued with debit cards.

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Only about 5% of billions of dollars which are moved in the region annually between NGOs and government agencies are usually in cash, while about 90% is usually in kind aid form, with items such as food, tents, books, clothes among others. The two companies, therefore, sought to make it possible for refugees to receive more cash, either through money transfer channels or mobile money. This cash would then be loaded into the cards which would then give the refugees the power to spend money as they choose.

“What they need most is financial empowerment, dignity and opportunity. So when a refugee gets even a tiny bit of money and can decide to spend, save or invest it, it gives them back dignity, choice and allows them to take a little control of their lives,” Western Union’s head of customer relationship management, Maureen Sigliano said.

Gathoni Kuria

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