Since war broke out in Ukraine, over 12 million people have fled their homes and 8 million have left the country – myself included. Currently, 5.5 million Ukrainian refugees have registered for Temporary Protection schemes across Europe – leaving their families
and jobs, setting up new lives with no certainty of how long they’ll be away.
Europe’s response to the refugee crisis has been exemplary, with countries and citizens opening their doors. However, finding safe shelter is just one piece of a larger puzzle. Many Ukrainians have very few documents with them – no passport, driver’s license,
or tax ID certificate. What’s more, current rules mean they can’t leave with more than $10,000 USD in cash, can’t transfer money out of Ukraine, and can only withdraw $1000-1700 USD monthly.
Although many Ukrainian refugees have left behind careers, homes, and solid financial histories, they’re finding it tough to access essential banking services. In addition, credit reports can no longer be read and interpreted by banks and financial institutions
in host countries, leaving refugees with a blank slate when it comes to their credit history.
Why is this a problem? Credit reports and ID documentation are crucial to enabling refugees to participate in society. They’re needed to open bank accounts, pass employer background checks and in many cases rent a property. Without access to this data, it
can be hard for refugees to assimilate. Creditinfo is working with central banks, international monetary organisations and financial institutions across Europe to make this data available to refugees, but the complexities run deeper.
Take me as an example. I left Ukraine in May and am now in Prague. My situation means I risk falling between the cracks of the Czech refugee system. Because I already have a Ukrainian job, I need to apply for a temporary protection visa to work in my host
country. But to register, I need to show a permanent address. To get a permanent address, I need a local bank account for the tenancy contract and to pay. To get a bank account, I need a visa. And so, the cycle continues. Thankfully, Creditinfo offered me
a three-month salary advance, so I could gradually take physical cash to the estate agent and break this cycle, but many refugees don’t have this option.
Given that average salary in Ukraine is under $500, finding three months of rent upfront is challenging, especially when many families are split. Most men aren’t allowed to leave Ukraine, can’t send money, and have lost their jobs. The answer? Enabling better
access to jobs, mid-term loans or other finance facilities. This will become even more crucial as temporary accommodation expires for refugees.
Even after a refugee secures income, accommodation and a bank account, issues around taxation remain. Most working Ukrainians continue to pay tax at home but, in many host countries, they’re also expected to pay domestic tax after 180 days. This double-taxation
is unsustainable, and many refugees who left Ukraine in February are considering returning as a result. Creditinfo hopes host countries will relieve refugees from income tax until March 2023, when most state permits expire. This will make life simpler for
governments and refugees – with the added benefit of taxes sent back to Ukraine helping to fund the war effort and rebuilding economy.
A cohesive, permissive approach is key here. Central banks, governments, NGOs, financial institutions and data providers must work together more closely to alleviate financial and administrative hardship for refugees – or risk undermining the hard work of
the refugee effort.