Statelessness and refugee registration

Andrew Paynter, Senior Policy Advisor, UNHCR,  says there are 10 million stateless people – a person not considered a national by any state. The effects are exclusion from education, health and ability to travel, even within a country. 

The causes are discrimination for particular ethnic minority groups, gender etc. 

The concept of statelessness and identity are different, but have much of the same impacts. Lacking documentation does not make one stateless, but it can make him/ her unrecognised to governments. 

Refugee registration and recording of bio data (finger printing, iris scanning) is a critical protection tool to inform UNHCR who the most vulnerable refugees are; the unaccompanied children etc. Bio data enables safeguards, e.g. preventing individuals from coming up twice for food. 

Issue of identity incredibly relevant to the work of UNHCR. 

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Modern day slavery, prostitution and the last girl who needs an identity

Ruchira Gupta, an Indian sex trafficking abolitionist, journalist and activist talks about Lucy Liu’s important film, Meena, about the issues of modern day slavery and prostitution. The issue for Meena’s freedom was trying to get her children free; there was no proof of their identity or heritage. 

When they were finally free, they could not get access to education or healthcare – they lacked an identity. The family cannot join us at the UN Summit today as they do not have passports. They are still being socially excluded because of the issue of identity. 

Thousands of girls cannot get any services as they have no identity, and they fear approaching help as they do not want to be repatriated into the same situation of forced prostitution. 

Traffickers, slave owners, often take the identities (passports, birth certificates) from the girls they hold and keep them in forced servitude. When girls go missing, how do we ensure that every girl is accounted for? Every girl must be linked to services, but they often do not know how to use the services. 

Ruchira Gupta asks us to close our eyes and think of the last girl- in India she is a low caste, in America she is a girl from an ethnic minority, she is a teenager, she has no choice over her education, her chores or play, her diet or what she wears. That is the last girl who must be reached by identity; she is the most marginalised. 

On why Gandhi travels third class:

Because there is no fourth class. 

Importance of sustainable development goals and three themes of the SDGs

Ruchira Gupta, UN Ambassador, talks of the importance of the SDGs. This enables the world population to prosper whilst sustaining the global environment. All UN members signed up to the SDGs. 

For the UK, one key objective was to ensure action against corruption and accountability of organisations are embedded in the SDGs. 

Some 50m children are born annually without a legal identity. They are susceptible to marginalisation. These children will not get access to good schools, to justice, not even to a bank account. 

Three themes of new SDGs:

  1. Leave no one behind;
  2. Wide range of stakeholders to be involved;
  3. Technological innovation will be key. 

Legal identity and social exclusion

Christian Wenaweser, UN Ambassador, says that 1.5bn people do not have a legal identity, a pre-requisite for social inclusion. That means 1.5bn people have no access to social protections and benefits such as health and welfare, education, finance systems, voting rights. This leaves them completely exposed to exploitation, and wholly vulnerable. 

Sustainable development goal 16.9 and human trafficking

Sarah Mendelson, UN Ambassador, suggests that providing an identity to all will be a force in combatting human trafficking. 

In the fight against modern slavery, technology can be a double edged sword. 

The Internet can be used by traffickers to advertise the sale of humans, build networks, carry out transactions anonymously. 

Governments are turning the tables on the traffickers and using technology to fight human trafficking. Prevention can be achieved through technology, e.g. SMS alerts against trafficking, tracking payments etc. Sarah Mendelson implores technologists to design their products with survivors in mind. 

The plan is to get as many member states to demand more from their supply chains, and to ensure that modern day slavery is absent from their commodities.  The Digital Partnership launches in several weeks. 

The future of digital identity according to today’s UN summit ID2020

We are here at the UNHQ in New York, and as the summit room fills up it begs the question, why does this matter?

Around the world, a quarter of the population do not have an identity. No passport, no birth certificate. Can you image the implications? That excludes a quarter of the world from having a bank account, getting formal employment, and moving around the world. 

The UN has agreed sustainable development goals, one of which is a commitment to give a legal identity to every person. The impact will be multiplied. Today, the UN Summit is tasked with finding the solution. Stay tuned for live blog updates. 

The Remittance Problem and how FinTech startups are answering it

Imagine Maria, a Mexican immigrant settled in Florida, USA.  Maria regularly sends remittances to her children in Mexico, who are being raised by her parents.  Maria is a cleaner earning $8.22 per hour; the minimum wage which many of her counterparts are not entitled to as they do not have the right to work in the USA.  For every $100, Maria must work more than 12 hours.  In order to send this $100 to her children in Mexico, she relies on money transfer companies including Western Union.

Here is the problem: these companies cut off up to $13 in fees every time she makes a transfer, and may also remit at unfavourable forex rates.  That is nearly two hours of Maria’s back breaking working day.  The payment can then take several days; tortuous days where both receiver and sender agonise over the uncertainty of whether that payment is to arrive.

Put another way, India remits $9 billion per year.  At Western Union’s cheapest rate, that is $45 million taken in fees which could have been spent on healthcare, school fees or utility bills.

And consider the emergency that requires immediate funds.  Let’s say Maria’s son contracts an illness, and the rainy day money that Maria’s parents have been squirrelling away do not cover the hospital fees.  The family do not happen to have private healthcare, nor medical insurance.  They rely on an immediate cash injection from Maria, but at best, this will arrive in 5 working days.  What will happen?

A Mexican friend of mine told me of the heartache she endured during her first year of living in the USA.  She sent thousands of dollars to her mother in Mexico and it was delayed by a week. She endured hours of calls to the well known American bank to trace the payment and recover it.  She no longer uses these; the trust is gone.

Block chain technology and FinTech startups are working on the solution to the remittance problem.  Block chain seeks to cut out the middle man, make payments instantaneous, secure and recorded in distributed ledgers.  That would ensure that payments do not go astray, and the distributed nature of the ledger prevents fraudulent activity.

Of the FinTech startups, Singapore has several which are putting financial inclusion at the heart of its mission.  Take fastacash, which is a global social payment platform which allows payments to be sent via messaging platforms and social platforms.  If we consider that WeChat had 697 million users in 2015, the potential for this service to help the world’s 2 billion unbanked individuals is significant.

Then there is Numoni, which is targeting the unbanked and creating services including micro-remittances, as well as payments and loans.  This enables individuals to pay for their children’s school fees, or their household bills in a safe and secure way.  In a world of crony capitalism and corruption, this is a huge step forward for the little person.

These FinTech startups are making waves amongst the rich world also.  When I lived in the USA, I relied on Revolut.  This London-based startup enables app users to send money around the world, exchange currency and make payments using their mobile. The best bit – they do it at 0% commission and the same exchange rate as Google.

These companies recognise the exploitative nature of remittances, the proliferation of mobile technology and the need for financial inclusion.  They are helping the unbanked leapfrog traditional financial institutions, and offering the rich world options.

To top it off, they are offering these affordable services with an unmatched customer service.  When I was state-side I was so nervous about sending dollars back to the UK that I sent a barrage of questions to Revolut via their in-app customer service chat option.  I received a speedy, specific response from a human being.  I did not get an automated response directing me to an irrelevant FAQ page.  This is what the modern customer wants, and only FinTech companies are willing to deliver.