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15,000 refugees at Bidi Bidi camp paid millions as UNCDF switches to mobile money

Bidi Bidi has now become the world’s largest refugee camp. (Photo by Trocaire)

KAMPALA: Uganda is emerging as a strong performer in digital financial services (DFS).

While releasing the findings from its pilot study to test digital payments to refugees in Bidi Bidi, one of the larger settlements in the Northern region of Uganda, the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) revealed that the study was a success.

UNCDF’s Knowledge Management Consultant, Naomi de Groot (PML Photo)

UNCDF’s Knowledge Management Consultant, Naomi de Groot said it was a success because under the study, UNCDF gave out 20,000 feature phones to refugees while the SIM cards were provided by Airtel under a partnership.

Out of the 20,000, DanChurchAid successfully made mobile money payments to 15,000 refugees.

Beneficiaries received eight instalments of $38 per month.

A community leader share a phone insight with a refugee. Refugees to receive $38 per month (UNHCR Photo)

“These transfers are provided to people with special needs, such as pregnant women and the elderly, or refugees taking part in ‘cash for work’ programmes,” Naomi de Groot clarified.

She further added that in order to efficiently provide adequate aid to refugees, more and more humanitarian organizations and international non-governmental organizations have decided to convert in-kind support to cash-based transfers.

She said that they have decided to phase out cash payments because of the high operational costs involved.

“With cash payments, we would have to hire a bullion van to transfer the money upcountry to these settlements. We would have to hire a patrol truck of police men to escort the van in addition to buying envelopes in which this money was to be packed,” Delia B. Dean Adam, UNCDF’s Value chain and digital finance consultant told PML Daily.

“We wanted to make the switch from cash to digital because we are convinced of the advantages for us as the distributor of cash: it is fast, transparent and reliable, as well as the benefits for the refugees. Receiving this money on their mobile phone gives refugees privacy, not everybody knows that they have been paid, which increases their safety. Having a phone also enables them to contact family members.”

Aerial view of Bidi Bidi settlement, the world’s largest settlement camp (Clare Wise de Wet & Jill Photo)

By the end of last year, Uganda was home to over 1.5million refugees.

Uganda’s refugee policy grants refugees’ access to healthcare, education, a right to work and freedom of movement.

Refugees are also provided with land for settlement purposes and to practice some agriculture to supplement food rations.

Meanwhile, like the rest of the world, Uganda too has started moving towards a cashless economy.

Digital financial services are on the increase in Uganda. In 2017, most active customers used digital savings or lending products.

New agency banking regulations offer a fresh opportunity for financial institutions to increase access to financial products, especially people in rural areas.

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