Around 700,000 people have fled from Syria to Jordan in the past 10 years. Their economic situation is often very difficult, and the aid they receive from international organizations such as UNHCR or WFP is mostly not enough for a life in dignity. Therefore, Syrian refugees in Jordan often work as day laborers or run their own small, often informal businesses.
Before digital financial services were introduced in Jordan, it was a major challenge for refugees to manage their low income efficiently. To receive money or pay for electricity and gas bills, refugees often had to set aside an entire day, travel long distances, and stand in line for many hours. They lacked this time to work. The money had to be kept in cash at home, where it could be stolen, or burned. Also, saving cash until the end of the month is often more difficult when it is immediately available.
Since 2015, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation has been funding a joint project between GIZ and the Central Bank of Jordan as part of the special initiative ‘Refugees’. The project works towards establishing digital financial services in the market and make them also available to refugees. This is not something that can be taken for granted. In many countries around the world, refugees are excluded from the formal financial system: the fear of terrorist financing is too great and the profit prospects for banks are too small. However, today, 8 years later, 98% of households in refugee camps and 60% outside refugee camps receive digital financial support from UNHCR and WFP via electronic wallets (e-wallet).
In the video, Eman Alnajar and Wael Alhemsi explain how their lives have improved by using the e-wallet. They receive aid payments and salaries through the e-wallet and don’t lose a valuable day of work standing in line. They don’t have to pay extra money for transportation and their money is kept safe. This is especially important in refugee contexts, where several families often share a home.
In 2023 45% of the 2 million e-Wallet users in Jordan are women. For women in particular, the e-wallet also offers new opportunities for self-employment. Hana Hawari runs a small sewing shop from home.
“With the mobile wallet, I can receive my payments and pay bills easily and quickly. I save a lot of time and avoid awkward conversations about money with strangers – I feel more independent,” she says of the mobile wallet.
A success factor of the project has been the cooperation with UN organizations such as UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF, which provide most of the aid to refugees. These organizations have recognized that e-wallets have distinct advantages over checks, prepaid cards, cash disbursement, or direct distribution of aid – only mobile wallets or bank accounts allow users to access their money at any time, save it, transfer it, and pay with it. At the same time, using e-wallets also increases the efficiency of aid organizations and contributes to greater transparency.
Another key factor is the political will of the Central Bank of Jordan. In 2016, it made a public commitment to providing access to the formal financial system for refugees in Jordan. Since then, financial sector regulation has been constantly evol ‘ved and the financial sector has been encouraged to invest in areas where many refugees live.