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March 16, 2020

How cash assistance works for Syrian refugees


After nine years of violence in Syria, millions of refugees continue to face uncertainty – especially when it comes to affording the cost of daily life in exile.

The overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees are settled outside of camps and approximately 70 percent of them live below the poverty line. Paying for basic needs – rent, utilities, food, water and healthcare – is often a struggle. This places refugee families at dire risk, often forcing them to make difficult choices such as skipping meals or taking their children out of school.

Monthly cash assistance is a vital lifeline for vulnerable Syrian refugee families who are determined to provide a better life for their families. They strive to make ends meet, but often fall short.

Here's What You Need to Know:


1. How does cash assistance work?

2. How do refugee families use UNHCR’s cash assistance?

3. Does this money really make a difference?

4. Why give cash assistance to Syrian refugee families?

5. What does cash assistance do for the communities where refugees live?

How does cash assistance work?

A safe, secure and reliable 5-step process

UNHCR’s cash assistance program uses an innovative, secure approach to identify vulnerable families and transfer the cash they need in a safe, reliable way.

  • Refugees are registered and their irises scanned using state-of-the-art technology.
  • UNHCR staff conduct home visits to refugee families to see living conditions and assess vulnerability, using tools that measure expenditures, family size, health issues and other factors to determine the families with greatest need of assistance.
  • Based on these assessments, families selected for cash assistance, informed and given instructions on how to access their monthly cash.
  • The process is secure and seamless: there’s no card. No PIN number. The cash withdrawal is made using iris identification scans.
  • UNHCR conducts post-distribution surveys to see how refugees are using cash assistance, identify challenges and measure impact.

How do refugee families use UNHCR’s cash assistance?

According to UNHCR assessments, monthly cash assistance is most commonly used to pay rent (84 percent of responses). The next most common expenditures are utilities (43 percent), food (33 percent) and health (26 percent).


Does this money really make a difference?

Yes, refugee families report they have better access to housing and, in many cases, their housing has improved. Overall, their quality of life improves, with more and better food, more money for healthcare and for their children’s education.


Why give cash assistance to Syrian refugee families? 

Cash assistance is the best way to meet refugee families’ basic ongoing needs. For families living outside of camps, monthly cash helps with the rent and makes it easier to provide adequate food and water. Each family knows its own needs and cash assistance lets the family choose to best way to fulfill them. It encourages resourcefulness, resilience and dignity, helping them not only survive, but thrive.


What does cash assistance do for the communities where refugees live?

There is a very positive benefit for the community. Cash assistance is new money flowing into the hands of merchants and landlords of the host community. And it also improves the refugees’ standing in the community. Eight out of ten refugee families report very good and good relationships with their communities.


Help refugees in 2020...

Monthly giving is the most convenient, effective and efficient way you can help people fleeing conflict. Start making a lifesaving difference today. Please become USA for UNHCR’s newest monthly donor.