Blockchain credit cards for refugees: we’re almost there

Image by Cody Cobb

For a refugee arriving in a new country, identity – in the bureaucratic sense – can be one of the toughest elements to recover. Without a official local ID – a common scenario many of the refugees coming into Europe find themselves in – the journey to integration, and becoming an active member of society is long and strenuous.

Over the last few years in Finland, where over 40,000 refugees have now been given asylum, prepaid Mastercards have been distributed to kickstart the lives of new citizens, with or without official ID cards. An important aspect of restoring dignity in those we call ‘refugees’ – people who prior their displacement were active members of society – is restoring their sense of autonomy and individualism. MONI, the Helsinki based company has developed a card that uses cryptocurrency and links to a unique digital identity that is also stored within the blockchain mechanism. By eliminating the middleman – centralised banks – blockchain steers over the official paperwork and documentation that many new asylum seekers fail to hold in the early stages of integration.

A MONI card functions in the same way as a bank account: using the app, payments can be made and received, it’s certainly a first step to gaining employment. “Our purpose has always been financial inclusion, and especially to help people in developing countries.” Says CEO and founder Antti Pennanen. But on closer examination, MONI has an array of fees that restrict it from becoming as visionary as Pennanen claims it to be. The card charges 2€ a month to merely hold an account and a small fee for every purchase and international transfer. This seems contradictory on every level. While the card does allow the humanistic integration of the refugee with the simple act of owning a bank account, it also continues to ‘softly’ exploit the disadvantaged position many displaced people find themselves in.

What MONI does do well however, is demonstrate that centralised banking and its bureaucracies are very quickly becoming obsolete and that new technologies, such as cryptocurrency, can be used to solve some of basic issues of integration. What we must be vigilant to is that such ideas are regulated and met with the rights that every other citizen has. I would not pay my bank 2€ a month and a fee for every transaction, and neither should anyone else.