Remittances to Syria: What works, where and how

Roger Dean


The opportunities for cash transfers to enable projects that will better meet emergency and post-emergency needs are of paramount importance where access is severely curtailed. This study seeks to explore the potential for cash transfer programming as a key modality for humanitarian actors to meet the needs of vulnerable populations inside Syria. It establishes that various Informal Value Transfer Systems (IVTS) – hawala, courier services and family connections – are used in Syria, to the exclusion of the formal banking sector.

Remittances have played an increasingly important role in Syrian’s household income in the last decade. The study was designed to provide Norwegian Refugee Council programme staff with improved understanding of various cash transfer modalities to inform the design of humanitarian projects in Syria. It draws on a secondary data review, key informant interviews in the Irbid Governorate, surveying across Southern Syria, focus group discussions in Zaatari Camp and an online survey. It explores institutions and mechanisms, their reliability and processes, potential access issues for various demographic sub-groups, and which modality may be better suited to resourcing differing programmatic options.

It highlights the following key findings:

  • There are registered and unregistered hawala agents operating within government-controlled areas, with the former being effectively used for Cash Transfer Programming (CTP).
  • Unregistered hawalas operating outside of government controlled areas are being used to pay NGOs’ operational costs and suppliers. Representing the only potential and scalable cash-out facility.
  • Travel is generally the major concern for people, and usage patterns vary according to safe and convenient availability of services.
  • The complexity of the hawala system remains only partly understood by many INGOs at an organisational level, although considerable familiarity may exist among key members of national staff and local partner NGOs.
  • Family connections may be used when receivers have social capital to enable a transfer, or when in isolated or contested locations.

The report concludes that humanitarian agencies may be interested in the use of hawala, registered or unregistered, or a combination of the two, offering considerations for each option. It cautions against using unregistered hawala outside of Syria as a sender completely, and highlights the need to develop extended agent assessment, due diligence and monitoring routines to mitigate against the considerable risk of using unregulated financial service in a conflict environment.


Dean, R. (2015). Remittances to Syria: What works, where and how. Oslo: Norwegian Refugee Council.