Mercy Corps Pilots Refugee Cash Assistance Program in Serbia

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Global organization provides pre-paid international debit cards to refugees in Europe

Maram, 13, a refugee from Daraa, Syria, takes the train with her family from Presevo, Serbia, to the Croatian border. photo courtesy of Mercy Corps

Even a small amount of cash lets people choose how they prioritize their individual needs, in addition to offering a measure of protection.

The global organization Mercy Corps has launched a new pilot program to distribute MasterCard prepaid debit cards to an estimated 5,600 eligible refugees traveling through Serbia, in partnership with the Serbian Ministry of Labor. Families will receive cards of 210 Euros, and individuals will receive cards of 70 Euros, which can be used to purchase what they need most.

It is the first such program in the region to use an international payment mechanism to help the tens of thousands of refugees and migrants seeking haven in Europe.

“At Mercy Corps, we believe cash assistance is the most rapid, efficient and dignified manner of providing humanitarian aid,” says Rebecca Thompson, Mercy Corps’ team leader for its refugee response in the Balkans. “Even a small amount of cash lets people choose how they prioritize their individual needs, in addition to offering a measure of protection. And an important side benefit is that this kind of program infuses cash into the economy and markets of the communities that are hosting refugees.”

The stream of people journeying to Europe continues steadily despite the harsh winter weather, with an estimated 1,000 to 3,000 people traveling through the Balkans every day. Mercy Corps is focusing its distributions on people who are the most vulnerable: people with disabilities, the elderly, women traveling alone, those in financial need and others at particular risk. The card can be used anywhere in the world that accepts MasterCard. It comes pre-loaded with the estimated funds families would need to buy essential supplies and obtain shelter over the 72-hour period typically spent in Serbia.

“Although we are able to help several thousand people over the next two months, the reality is that thousands more urgently need assistance,” says Thompson.

To support Mercy Corps’ work in the Balkans and elsewhere in the world, go to mercycorps.org/donate.

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Katia Riddle
Mercy Corps
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