The refugee status: a distinctive factor that must be understood as such.

By Elena Alban.

“Financial inclusion means that individuals and businesses have access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs – transactions, payments, savings, credit and insurance – delivered in a responsible and sustainable way.”

World Bank definition.

Financial inclusion plays a vital role in reducing poverty and promote a sustainable economic growth. Access to and use of financial services help people manage their cash flow, become more resilient to shocks and participate in business activities and life-cycle events by investing assets.

As the financial market has developed consistently in the last decades, nowadays more and more people can access to a broader range of financial products and can benefit of it.

Anyway, there are still groups of people that lack even the most basic financial products, for instance a current account or insurance.

Financial inclusion has become an essential element to achieving the goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, such as reducing inequality, poverty, gender gap, hunger, getting a decent work and sustaining economic growth.

With reference to Europe, the 2013 Report on good practices on Financial Inclusion provided by the CeSPI gives evidence of the fact that financial inclusion has entered more and more the national agenda’s priorities of States.

The problem that governments must face since the last decade concerns mainly the refugee crisis of 2015, that has produced an unstable environment both at political and economic level.

In order to analyse the relation between migration and financial services, it is necessary to take a look at some fundamental variables affecting the financial needs of migrants. In this context, an important aspect is to look at what kind of migrations States and the financial system have to deal with, taking into consideration the background from where these people come from.

Refugees escaping from conflicts, such as the Syrian ones, have completely different needs than economic immigrants.

They have lost everything. When they arrive in a new country, there is the need not only to offer them shelters and protection, but to introduce them to the host society, to allow them to become independent and responsible of their own choices and to start a new life.

Thus, with reference to the refugee status, States must be more strongly committed in implementing not only civil and political rights, but also social and economic rights, given the precarious and difficult situations these people come from.

A deeper cooperation between governments and the bank sector can be a successful action plan in order to create new policies to face the dramatic phenomenon of social exclusion.

It is in this framework that financial inclusion takes place. It is a powerful concept to allow people to get access to the financial services and products, that are necessary to provide them with the basis on which to build a kind of economic stability. Moreover, financial inclusion is more and more essential in advanced economies, such as in Europe, where the financial system has already developed and plays a vital role in people’s life.

Several practices have been implemented at the national level. Examples are the housing associations or the Toynbee Hall in UK, the Santander bank action plan and El Plan Nacional de Educaciòn Financiera in Spain, or ADIE in France. Anyway, according to the 2013 Report on good practices on Financial Inclusion provided by the CeSPI, the majority of these practices are based on an universal approach, meaning that they do not concern specific groups of the population, but they are mainly focused only on disadvantaged and vulnerable subjects at risk of social exclusion, given their poverty status, to avoid to use the immigrant category as a distinguishing factor.

The issue here is that the migrant category, in particular the refugee one, is a distinctive factor and it must be concerned like that, as refugees rely on a economic and social basis completely different from that one of citizens or of economic immigrants in the host country.

Even if according to the Geneva Convention of 1951, refugees have to be reserved the same rights as those of immigrants from other countries, when talking about positive obligations of the State, there is the need to create ad hoc financial inclusion policies for the refugee category. Some practices adopted in Germany, such as Investitionsbank Berlin’s program to give microcredits to refugees, have given evidence that this will benefit not only the host advanced European societies, but also the refugees too. Through a stronger cooperation between the normative and the private sector, it is possible to create a more favourable environment for both actors participating in the financial system.

Being poor in a rich country maybe is worst than being poor in a poor one. In advanced economies poor people are left alone, society runs fast and it does not care if you are put of the game. That’s why financial inclusion becomes so important: it is the key to get and achieve the most basic services (such as a salary) to get your rights be respected.


Buone pratiche di Inclusione Finanziaria: uno sguardo Europea, CeSPI, 2013

Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951