KIGALI, 16 February 2017 – The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Airtel and I&M Bank (Rwanda) Limited have today signed an agreement that will facilitate the issuance of cash assistance to Rwandan refugees who return home, mainly from a number of sub-Saharan African countries.
In this new alliance between UNHCR, Airtel and I&M Bank (Rwanda) Limited, each returnee family will receive a mobile phone and a sim card with an activated Airtel Money account so that the cash assistance can be delivered in the form of money transfers through phones.
Delivery and sensitization of the mobile phones is provided immediately upon arrival at the transit centres, which are co-managed by UNHCR and the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR). Rwandan refugees will receive a cash grant of USD $250 per adult and USD $150 per child. Not only is this method of delivery cost-effective, it is also quick and seamless – and supports reintegration of families further by giving them access to communication.
“This is a wonderful example of a strong partnership between the humanitarian and private sectors and a show of support that the private sector is engaged in helping people in need. UNHCR has been strengthening such important partnerships with private companies, first shelter construction for Burundian refugees in Mahama camp and now assistance to Rwandan refugees returning home,” said Mr. Saber Azam, UNHCR Representative in Rwanda.
“Cash based-assistance will ensure that the basics needs of the returnees are met in a more efficient manner, but also in a way that fosters more independence and dignity,” added Mr. Saber, who co-hosted the signing ceremony with the Marketing Director of Airtel, Mr. Moses Abindabizemu, and the Managing Director of I&M Bank (Rwanda) Limited, Mr. Robin Bairstow.
Previously, UNHCR distributed essential household items to refugees upon their return, but most of the time returnees would sell part or all of what was provided in order to get cash to buy other products they truly need.
The decision to move to cash is intended to encourage more Rwandan refugees in the region to return home as the deadline of the Cessation Clause is scheduled to come to an end – at the close of this year, 2017.
UNHCR anticipates a planning figure of 20,000 refugees returning to Rwanda for 2017. In addition, such an approach aims also at supporting the local Rwandan economy.
Airtel Marketing Director, Mr. Moses Abindabizemu commenting on the partnership said, “As Airtel we are pleased to be partnering with UNHCR and I&M Bank (Rwanda) Limited to roll out the best means to facilitate returnees financially. Airtel is dedicated to providing the best services through our Airtel money platform that will ease the mode of transaction as returnees receive their stipend.”
Following the signing, Mr. Robin Bairstow remarked “This partnership with UNCHR and Airtel, is one of several avenues that I&M Bank (Rwanda) Limited continues to reaffirm its commitment towards moving more Rwandans into the formal financial services sector.
This payment platform not only allows for Rwandan returnees to be economically independent but also presents financial choices to them. We look forward to being able to touch and change lives through this partnership.”
Last year in November 2016, at Nkamira Transit Center in Rubavu district, UNHCR launched the cash assistance program to Rwandan refugees who returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to test the initiative and to see if it would be well received by the refugees. By the end of the year 403 families were supported.
The multipurpose grants in form of cash provides more choice and flexibility to returnees, who are empowered to determine their own needs and how best to meet them. Cash Based Assistance to the returnees comes as a response to returnees basic matters that they encountered once they are back.
UNHCR has to make sure that when returnees come, they can have a source of income, they can have an opportunity for a decent livelihood, they can have access to health care, to education, etc.
The injection of cash into the community also has benefits that go well beyond the individual family, as it is has been proven in other contexts to have a multiplier effect which boosts the local economy.