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Cash Assistance Gives Refugees The Power Of Choice

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The programme aims to ensure that refugees, asylum-seekers, returnees, internally displaced and stateless people meet their needs in dignity, are protected and can become more resilient. In the three years between 2016 and 2019 when it ramped up cash assistance, UNHCR – in partnership with governments, UN agencies, NGOs and the private sector – has distributed around $2.4 billion to 20 million vulnerable individuals in more than 100 countries. With cash now accounting for a greater share of the agency’s assistance than traditional in-kind aid, the shift has resulted in significant changes to UNHCR’s organisation, with some 5,000 internal and partner staff now trained on cash assistance.  Around 95 percent of the money is disbursed without restrictions, meaning that refugees themselves can choose how they spend it. This benefits the local economy with refugees buying essential goods in local stores and paying for local services.

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The cash-based interventions cover the whole arc of displacement, from helping people uprooted within and beyond the borders of their own countries, to assisting those who opt to return home when conditions are safe enough — among them thousands of Somalis. Nearly three decades of civil war in the Horn of Africa country uprooted more than two million people to neighbouring countries. With security at home improving, more than 90,000 refugees have so far returned voluntarily, for whom cash is proving vital as they restart their lives in their still fragile homeland. Among beneficiaries is the mother of five Aisha, 55, who spent 25 years as a refugee in Dadaab, Kenya. On returning to Somalia in early 2017, she used a reinstallation grant of US$200 to set up a small store in Kismayo, selling everything from bananas and watermelons to pens. “It allows me to cater to most of my family’s needs.” “It allows me to cater to most of my family’s needs,” she says of the shop, stocked with items bought from local wholesalers in the country, now getting back on its feet after decades of war and instability…….

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