Enabling Forcibly Displaced Persons to access mobile services by addressing identification barriers

The importance of mobile phones, networks and services to people’s lives today is undisputed. However, the increasing emphasis on proof-of-identity requirements in more than 135 countries worldwide is preventing large numbers of underserved people who lack identification documents from accessing mobile connectivity and mobile financial services (MFS).

The situation is much exacerbated for forcibly displaced persons (FDPs). The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that more than 65 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide, many of whom have been forcibly displaced for over two decades. An additional 25.4 million people are displaced every year due to natural disasters and climate-related events. FDPs often relocate within their own countries or to other countries without any form of legal identification as these may have been forgotten, lost, destroyed or stolen during their journey, while those who are fleeing persecution based on some aspect of their identity (e.g. nationality, religion, ethnic group, sexual orientation, membership of a particular social group or political affiliation etc.) may decide not to travel with documentation.

FDPs therefore form a large group of people around the world who are likely to be impacted by identity-related barriers and face digital, financial and social exclusion where these barriers prevent them from accessing mobile services.

We are excited to launch a new report offering several recommendations for host-country governments and regulators on how to potentially address identification barriers and enable displaced populations to access mobile services. The report was put together following input from a range of stakeholders including several UN bodies and humanitarian aid agencies.

Download the Policy Note
Enabling FDP access to mobile services can lead to numerous positive outcomes. For FDPs themselves, mobile helps them communicate with loved ones and improve their livelihoods. For humanitarian agencies, mobile supports financial aid disbursement to beneficiaries directly, improving transparency, expediency and operational efficiency. For host-countries, mobile services can help FDPs reduce their reliance on state resources and increase economic activity in and around local host communities. There are numerous other benefits.

However, to realise these benefits a number of identification-related barriers need to be addressed. Our report makes a number of recommendations for host-country governments and regulators on how to mitigate such barriers for the displaced populations. For example, they could:

  • 1. Clarify what’s considered ‘acceptable identification’ for FDPs to access mobile services, and ensure that a critical mass of FDPs has access to an acceptable form of identity;
  • 2. Allow the use of UNHCR-issued identification, where available, to satisfy any mandatory SIM registration or ‘Know Your Customer’ (KYC) requirements for opening mobile money accounts;
  • 3. Enable lower, ‘tiered’ thresholds of KYC requirements to allow FDPs to open basic mobile money accounts, particularly in emergency contexts;
  • 4. Harmonise identity-related SIM registration requirements with the lowest-tier of KYC requirements in countries where SIM registration is mandatory;
  • 5. Establish proportionate Risk Assessment processes that take into account the diverse types of FDPs when considering proof-of-identity policies;
  • 6. Explore the use of new Digital Identity technologies; and
  • 7. Promote robust identity validation processes while adopting consistent data protection and privacy frameworks.

In considering these recommendations, it is important for the relevant ministries to work together with the identity authorities, humanitarian agencies and mobile operators, to pursue a common roadmap and vision. If you have additional recommendations please get in touch.

This initiative is currently funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and supported by the GSMA and its members.