Cash Assistance Confers the Power of Choice

calendar iconNov 25, 2020


The remit of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is to ensure everyone has the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge from violence, persecution, war or disaster. It uses cash-based assistance to do this, allowing millions to ‘meet their needs in dignity’.

By the end of 2019, at least 79.5 million people had been forcibly displaced from their homes. Of those, around 26 million were refugees, and while there are a number of promising new technologies and apps being developed to help, there is a very simple way of providing rapid assistance to refugees: cash.

Food aid and vouchers can be costly to set up and take time to arrive and be implemented where they are needed. Cash can reach its recipients quickly, and with fewer up-front costs. A UN World Food Programme study also found people ate a more varied diet when provided cash-based assistance rather than food aid.

Another benefit of cash is its transparency compared with other methods of providing humanitarian aid. Detailed information on precisely how much funding actually reaches those in need can often be hard to come by, whereas cash-based interventions provide a much clearer picture of what money is going where.

Cash handouts also boost the local economy of places where refugees are taken in, offering the dual benefit of empowering refugees and supporting local businesses. This fosters positive interactions with host communities, which can help ease tensions and pave the way to integration into society.

Cash creates important new opportunities for meeting humanitarian needs in ways that restore and enhance individual choice and increase opportunities for refugee inclusion.

According to the UNHCR, more than 20 million people are receiving cash assistance in over 100 countries. Its cash operations run alongside in-kind support and services, with the largest in 2018 taking place in Lebanon, Jordan, Greece, Yemen and Iraq.

The cash assistance programmes help to prevent displaced people from resorting to desperate survival strategies, such as child labour. In 2020, the UNHCR’s focus is on expanding and improving the quality of its cash assistance to protect refugees, improve their access to services, and enable financial inclusion and social protection.

To find out more about the UNHCR’s work, and to get involved or donate, visit

Last Updated: Nov 25, 2020