Digital Wallets and Migration Policy: A Critical Intersection

Report by the German Marshall Fund: “A range of international bodies have recently begun experimenting with digital wallets. Digital wallets take many forms but are typically mobile phone-based systems that enable people to make electronic transactions and/or share identity credentials. In cross-border and migration contexts, digital wallets promise to have wide ranging implications for global governance, especially in identity management and finance. Aid organizations, governments, technology companies, and other interested parties are testing digital wallet projects that either target, or incidentally affect, migrants and refugees along with mainstream citizens.

A pertinent example is Ukraine’s Diia wallet. Precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the reliance on digital systems for governance, the Ukrainian government launched the Diia wallet in 2020. Diia provides Ukrainians with a centralized, digital platform for storing, managing, and sharing official credentials such as vaccination records, insurance documents, passports, ID cards, and licenses.  Through the Diia mobile application, Ukrainian people can engage with the government to update residence or driving license information, pay taxes, or access benefits, among other uses.

In early 2022, Russia’s war on Ukraine prompted the mass displacement of Ukrainian refugees. Key government infrastructures have been and continue to be targeted, compromised, and/or destroyed by Russian forces. Some Ukrainians have lost access to their devices, network connections, and digital ID documents in the Diia wallet (see Figure 1). However, others are using the wallet to access vital assistance. Internally displaced people are receiving monthly aid to cover living expenses; refugees are using Diia to donate to the army, report on enemy troops, and access TV and radio. The Diia wallet is a key example of a mainstream digital wallet system being stress tested in circumstances of political conflict and displacement. It illustrates the urgent need to investigate the implications of national digital wallet systems for governments and people in crisis:

  • Does the digital wallet infrastructure support the secure continuation of government services and assistance?
  • Do digital wallets boost the resilience of internally displaced people and refugees rebuilding their lives across borders, including marginalized groups?
  • What are the risks of a digital wallet system, and how are they playing out in conditions of mass displacement?…(More)”.