UNHCR Cash Assistance: Improving Refugee Lives and Supporting Local Economies

Report
from UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Published on 24 Jul 2017

Executive Summary

UNHCR’s Cash-Based Interventions (CBI) support the most vulnerable Syrian refugees living within the host community in Jordan. Thanks to generous donor support last year, over 30,000 households received monthly cash assistance, winterisation cash, and cash for health, totalling nearly US $ 85 million. Families were chosen for assistance following a home visit. Using a humanitarian assessment model, the Vulnerability Assessment Framework (VAF), families received a ranking for vulnerability.

In 2016, UNHCR provided between 80 JOD and 155 JOD per month to refugee households in need (depending on household size). This contribution eased the family’s burden and enabled them to cover a part of their most urgent needs. The assistance also helped to ensure that many families were able to survive without needing to cope by depleting their savings, incurring debt, and taking their children out of school in order to work.

Beneficiaries of UNHCR’s cash assistance are able to access their cash directly from more than 90 iris-enabled Cairo Amman Bank ATM’s. Authentication for withdrawal takes place through a secure and encrypted network connection (known as EyeCloud®) that enables refugees’ identities to be verified at ATM’s linked to UNHCR’s iris database. This not only reduces costs while increasing efficiency and security, but also helps to preserve refugees’ dignity. In August 2016, UNHCR launched the Common Cash Facility (CCF) – a one-partner platform for cash delivery that shares the benefits of this innovative technology with nine partner organisations.

Since 2013, UNHCR has undertaken regular monitoring of its CBIs. This report presents the findings of the four post-distribution monitoring (PDM) exercises conducted in 2016. It analyses the results of home visits and phone interviews with a geographically representative sample of 1,690 beneficiary households.

The PDM results reveal that UNHCR’s CBIs have positively contributed to Syrian refugee families by helping them meet critical needs over the course of the year.

Ninety-nine percent of respondents confirmed that the CBIs led to an improvement in their living conditions and a reduction of their financial burden.

However, only sixteen percent believe that cash assistance enables them to fully cover their basic needs

Income

All families showed a heavy reliance on UNHCR cash assistance, with a third of the respondents relying on UNHCR as their sole income source. A quarter of the families generate additional income through wage labour. And over a third rely on borrowing money, mainly from neighbours, relatives, and friends. A few families (3%) reportedly rely on child labour even following the receipt of cash assistance.

Expenditure

The majority of respondents report that they are able to purchase basic needs items such as food and household items in their local market. In 2016, the total average monthly expenditure of Syrian families receiving cash assistance was 271 JOD. Expenditures remained consistent throughout the year, with rent (88% paying 123 JOD on average), health (64% paying 41 JOD on average), and food (84% paying 66 JOD on average) dominating household expenses. Sixty-one percent of the interviewed families were able to remain in their current property for over a year. For ten percent of the families, debt repayment remained a large expenditure, amounting to 39 JOD on average per month. Although education is free for Syrian children in Jordan, families must cover transport, uniforms, and school supplies.

Impact of Cash Assistance

In addition to a vast majority of households confirming an improvement of their living conditions, 40% saw significant impact on the wellbeing of their families. Sixty-four percent of the families reported a positive impact on their psychological well-being. More than half of the respondents stated that it helped pay rent and a quarter stated their housing quality improved. A quarter of the respondents used the cash assistance to improve the food quality for their family.

Quality of Service Delivery

UNHCR’s cash assistance is distributed either via biometric recognition (iris scan) or ATM cards. An overwhelming majority of respondents (95.5%) are satisfied with the method by which the money is disbursed.

In January 2016, iris authentication was switched from the bank to the more secure EyeCloud® platform. UNHCR undertook a large scale iris re-scanning campaign, after PDM data showed that 60% of respondents faced challenges with their iris scans. One quarter of the respondents stated they visited ATM’s more than once due to overcrowding.

In response, UNHCR plans to stagger cash payments in 2017.

The data also highlighted that only 41% of the respondents appeared to know how to successfully reach UNHCR staff for complaints. Of those that knew how to access help, 16.5% used the complaint mechanism. Of the respondents that did contact UNHCR, 81% found an answer to their complaint. In response to the lack of awareness, UNHCR took measures to improve the cash beneficiaries’ understanding of how to access the complaint mechanisms.

Resulting Next Steps

The 2016 PDM highlights several key technical areas that deserve greater attention in 2017, including:

  • Improving beneficiaries knowledge of and access to feedback and complaint mechanisms; and
  • Reducing barriers to cash withdrawal.

In addition, UNHCR will seek to better understand the impact of refugees incurring debt, as well as how access to formal work opportunities impacts household well-being.