The BBVA Microfinance Foundation at the Global Refugee Forum

December 18th is known as International Migrants Day, proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in the year 2000. Conflicts, catastrophes and climate change impact continue to push millions of people to abandon their homes to search for a refuge. In fact, more than 280 million have left their countries, according to the latest data from International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that currently, the number of people displaced globally due to wars, persecution, violence and human rights violations has exceeded 114 million, out of which 36.4 million are refugees; 75% of them now live in low or middle income countries. Just in the first half of the year, 1.6 million people sought asylum, Spain being the third country in the world to receive applications (87,100), the U.S.A. received 540,600 and Germany, 150,200.

A few days before the commemoration day, UNHCR-organized Global Refugee Forum was taking place in Geneva, in its second edition this year, it was co-convened by Colombia, France, Japan, Jordania and Uganda. Organized every four years and created under the ratification  of the Global Compact on Refugees, it is the largest international gathering on the subject, it welcomed over 4,200 delegates and chiefs of state from 168 countries.

In this forum, States and other participants present their commitments and concrete contributions, the progress achieved and their best practices while assessing the remaining challenges. Viviana Araque, executive president of Bancamía, BBVA Microfinance Foundation’s (BBVAMF) Colombian institution, was one of the speakers. She explained that more than 2.8 million Venezuelan migrants live in Colombia (almost 43% of the Venezuelan migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean, 6.54 million), in a country that has spent the past 60 years under internal conflict that has left millions of victims, among which 8.5 million are forcibly displaced.

Araque explained that the BBVAMF’s institution, Bancamía, was the first Colombian bank to allow Venezuelan migrants to acquire a financial product using temporary documentation. Bancamía currently supports nearly 8,400 Venezuelan migrants, 55% of whom are women. In alliance with the USAID it implements since 2018, the program Emprendimientos Productivos para la Paz (EMPROPAZ)in 92 municipalities affected by violence and poverty. EMPROPAZ offers financial inclusion with special conditions in different stages, entrepreneurship training for activities in their starting phase and business strengthening initiatives for those already set up. In 2020 outreach of EMPROPAZ was extended to be able to support the Venezuelan migrant population, remigrated Colombians and host communities in 21 municipalities where migrants concentrate. EMPROPAZ has supported more than 200,000 people in these territories.  

Internet access is essential for the more vulnerable population segments

This week, Geneva has also seen the second annual meeting of the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition, an alliance launched by the United Nations to foster digital inclusion with a focus on the hardest to connect communities. Gabriela Eguidazu, director for Innovation for Inclusive Growth of the BBVAMF participated in this meeting to announce that: “In less than 3 years, the Foundation’s institutions have disbursed more than USD 4bn financing and offering digital solutions to more than 3.6 million entrepreneurs in vulnerable conditions living in five countries.” She also explained that the Foundation’s purpose to serve people in poverty or in vulnerability also includes those who have been forced to flee their homes.

In Marisol Meza’s case, this Nicaraguan woman had to leave her country, pregnant, together with her husband and two children because their lives were in danger. She was one of the entrepreneurs supported by the Foundation in Panama through the Financial Inclusion Program for Refugees, in alliance with UNHCR and Red Cross. This initiative allows people like Marisol to be economically integrated in the country. She shares, “When I set my business up, I asked myself ‘Who will lend me money now? How will I get it?’. Until I discovered the Foundation’s institution, which has been a great help because with that I was able to increase sales, get into training programs and teach and encourage other women that it is possible to set up a business.”

Migrants and displaced persons are among the most vulnerable and marginalized segments in society. Because of that, the Partner2Connect meeting also tackled issues like improving internet access to refugees and displaced people. Kelly Clements, Deputy High Commissioner for UNHCR explained that the internet allows them to access information they need, as well as to basic services or contacting their families.

“Partner2Connect is about big numbers but even bigger human impact stories”, said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Secretary General for ITU, UN’s specialized organization for telecommunications. “Behind the numbers are people and organizations committed to making a difference in the lives of hard to connect communities.”