The story goes that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), European Union (EU), MasterCard and George Soros are working together to “generously hand out prepaid debit cards” to migrants and refugees. (Disclosure: in 2018 the Open Society Foundations provided funding accounting for 7% of Africa Check income.)
The article says “how illegal migrants cope financially during their long journeys to and through Europe has been revealed by the Slovenian site Nova24”.
It adds that “no identity documents are required to receive or use the cards”.
“The information comes from a source within the Croatian police, which states that the migrants are well-equipped with newly purchased, high-quality boots, hiking clothes, smartphones and even weapons.”
The article is illustrated by two photos. One is of smiling young black men giving each other the high-five. This seems to be a stock photo first published online by a Kenyan website in April 2018.
The second is of a MasterCard debit card bearing the EU and UNHCR logos. This was taken directly from a May 2018 UNHCR report on the emergency response to the refugee crisis in Greece.
What are these cards?
But the story mixes up an existing UNHCR programme and a separate humanitarian aid partnership between the philanthropist billionaire George Soros and credit card provider MasterCard, according to a Snopes fact-check that rated it false.
The UNHCR programme was started in 2011 in Moldova and then expanded in 2016. The debit cards are meant to be a form of multipurpose cash assistance for refugees and asylum seekers to meet basic needs such as housing and other services. According to the UNHCR, the cash-based assistance programme was rolled out in 60 countries in 2016.
MasterCard has also sponsored two similar but separate aid programmes. The first is a 2016 partnership with the humanitarian group Mercy Corps, in which prepaid debit cards were given to refugees traveling through Serbia, as well as to refugees and migrants traveling through countries in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The second is a MasterCard partnership with George Soros to create a “standalone entity” called Humanity Ventures. The partnership seeks to provide entrepreneurial and private sector solutions to problems created by the migrant crisis but does not actually distribute any debit cards to migrants.
Why cash (debit) cards instead of aid?
According to the Mercy Corps, the key aim of the cashless assistance programme is “to provide the capacity for people to act independently… the ability to spend money on what they need… with dignity and more control”.
The UNHCR has said that access to cash empowers refugees “by giving them the choice over how to meet their most immediate needs. Freed from having to queue or travel to receive one-size-fits-all aid, people can buy their own food, fuel, clothes, medicine or pay the rent based on their personal priorities. In this way, refugees contribute directly to local economies and foster positive relations with host communities”. – Africa Check (31/01/19)
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