UNHCR uses cash transfers to provide protection, assistance and services to vulnerable displaced persons. This allows them to meet their most pressing needs, build and support livelihoods, and facilitate voluntary return.
When people are forced to flee their homes, they leave with the bare essentials. They also lose their ability to earn and spend in the process. Our cash-based interventions (CBIs) seek to protect refugees by reducing the risks they face and maintaining their capacity to spend. CBIs can be used in a variety of settings, as long as there is a stable market and a safe way to provide vulnerable people with cash or vouchers. The flexibility that CBIs offer makes them a more dignified form of assistance, giving them the ability to immediately prioritize and choose what they need.
Cash transfers make people in need less likely to resort to harmful coping strategies, such as survival sex, child labour, family separation or forced marriage. They also directly benefit the local economy and can contribute to peaceful coexistence with host communities.
At UNHCR, we promote collaborative cash approaches to maximize the benefits to our persons of concern. Whenever possible, we also try to strategically leverage our cash assistance to pave the way towards financial, social and economic inclusion.
Reports and policies
Tools, guidance, studies
UNHCR has published over 60 external publications to document our extensive experience in using cash assistance as a vehicle to meet the immediate needs of displaced populations and as a pathway to solutions. For some of these publications, we have also teamed up with our partners to maximize knowledge-sharing and exchange.
Multipurpose cash assistance
Multi-purpose cash (MPC) constitutes the largest proportion of cash assistance implemented by UNHCR, as it provides greater flexibility and choice for people in need to help them meet their basic needs.
- Operational Guidance & Toolkit for Multipurpose Cash Grants
- Multi-Purpose Cash and Sectoral Outcomes. A Review of Evidence and Learning: Full report | Executive summary | Case study Greece | Case study Afghanistan
Cash and protection
UNHCR’s cash assistance addresses protection by ensuring the safe and dignified delivery and use of cash assistance through protection mainstreaming and by embedding the use of cash in targeted protection interventions. The most common protection support through cash is helping persons with specific needs to meet their basic needs and to achieve protection outcomes in the areas of child protection, education, reintegration of returnees, GBV prevention and response, and enabling access to documentation.
- Cash Assistance and Protection: Why, What and How?
- Guidance on Promoting Child Protection Outcomes through CBI: full guidance (French version) and summary (French version).
Cash and social safety nets
UNHCR promotes the inclusion of refugees in Government-led social safety nets. Recognizing that forcibly displaced people often face particular barriers and challenges in accessing social safety nets, UNHCR is leveraging and aligning its cash assistance to link with national social protection systems, whenever feasible.
- Aligning Humanitarian Cash Assistance with National Social Safety Nets in Refugee Settings - Key Considerations and Learning
- UNHCR Mapping of Social Safety Nets for Refugees - Opportunities and Challenges
Cash and sectorial areas
UNHCR uses cash assistance to achieve a wide range of technical objectives related to health, WASH, or shelter, also keeping in mind our environmental footprint.
- Review of environmental impact of Cash-Based Interventions and in-kind assistance and Environmental Checklist
- Cash and sectors good practices:
Cash and COVID-19
The COVID-19 response has demonstrated that UNHCR is fit for purpose to deliver cash at scale and swiftly in response to a rapid onset of a global emergency.
- UNHCR Cash Assistance and COVID-19: Emerging Field Practices I
- UNHCR Cash Assistance and COVID-19: Emerging Field Practices II
Monitoring and evaluations
Monitoring is a critical component of UNHCR’s cash assistance project cycle. UNHCR’s corporate CBI post-distribution monitoring tool has been rolled-out in +60 operations. Similarly, formal evaluations help increase our understanding of the quality and impact of our assistance.
- Cash Assistance in 2022: Main Outcomes from Post Distribution Monitoring
- Multi-Purpose Cash Assistance (2021): Main Outcomes from Post Distribution Monitoring
- Synthesis of Evidence from Evaluations of UNHCR’s Cash-Based Interventions
In line with the Global Compact for Refugees, UNHCR strongly believes in collaborative approaches to meet the needs of forcibly displaced people.
- UN Common Cash Statement Progress Report 2021
- UN Common Cash Statement Questions & Answers (Arabic, Spanish, French)
Data protection and systems
As part of UNHCR’s corporate data eco-system PRIMES, UNHCR has developed CashAssist – UNHCR’s Cash Management System – which ensures that cash transfers are made to refugees, IDPs and others of concern in a timely, efficient and accurate manner, respecting UNHCR’s commitment to Data Protection & Privacy, while avoiding duplication and minimizing fraud.
- CashAssist - UNHCR’s Cash Assistance Management System
- Registration tools – UNHCR – Guidance on Registration and Identity Management
Financial services and markets
Access to financial services are markets are prerequisites for successful CBI implementation. UNHCR’s seeks to leverage on its partnership with +70 financial service institutions to promote financial inclusion of the forcibly displaced. Similarly, market assessments are an essential and integral part of the overall response analysis to inform humanitarian programme design and the appropriate choice of transfer modality.
- Cash assistance and access to formal financial services
- UNHCR – Digital payments to refugees – A pathway towards financial inclusion
- Displaced and Disconnected
- Desplazados y Desconectados (Displaced and Disconnected) – South America