Last month, France removed the cash withdrawal function from the ADA card - a special card reserved for asylum seekers in France – and transformed it into an “electronic-payment-only” card. The change has had a huge impact on the card’s users, who say they now struggle to pay for the most basic necessities, and many struggle to pay their rents.
A lot of basic foods and services are paid for in cash in France: whether it’s to buy a baguette at the local bakery, fruit and vegetables at the neighborhood market, or whilst using the laundromat around the corner. But with changes to the cash withdrawal system since November 5, asylum seekers say they have suddenly been shut out from a number of necessary services – all because they no longer have cash.
The allocation for asylum seekers card – known as Allocation de Demandeur d’Asile, or ADA, in French – was introduced in France around three years ago to offer asylum seekers a safe and secure manner by which to receive their monthly payments. Anyone who arrives in France and files an asylum application is entitled to the aid. But the amounts vary: A single person is entitled to €6.80 per day (about €190 per month), a couple with two children gets €17 per day (about €476 per month), and a family of six gets €23.80 per day (about €660 per month). The ADA is the only financial allowance that asylum seekers receive.
Although authorities say the removal of the cash withdrawal function protects migrants, since it prevents them from getting robbed for cash, many card-users have, in recent weeks, contacted InfoMigrants to recount how the change has upended their lives.
“I can’t even buy a baguette for €1 anymore because the minimum payment by card is often €5,” Bilal, a distraught 25-year-old Afghan asylum-seeker who lives in the western city of Rennes, says. “And it’s not only in the bakeries it’s like that: as recently as yesterday, I wanted to buy a drink at a corner store, but I couldn’t because it wasn’t expensive enough to pay for with a card.”
Mulham, a 27-year-old Syrian in Paris, agrees. “It’s unfair. I sometimes end up buying things I don’t really need just to reach the minimum amount for card payments.”
'I pay my rent in cash'
Sissoko, a refugee from Mali who lives in the eastern Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Marne, also points to other important services that have suddenly become unavailable to ADA card-holders: “You can’t go to the laundromat anymore because you need change to pay for using the washing machines. I wash my clothes by hand now, but I can’t dry them, so I hang them up in my room. But when it rains it gets humid inside and the clothes don’t dry.”
Dalaise, a 25-year-old Malian living in Naintré in western France, says the change has massively impacted his already tiny food budget since he can no longer shop at the local market where he used to buy “African tea and ingredients”. “It was cheaper than in the supermarkets. I also used to buy potatoes from local farmers there. But now I can’t anymore. With this card, we’re forced to go to major food retailers where the money runs out fast.”
For Amadou, a father-of-two from Ivory Coast, the ADA card change may cost him and his family their accommodation. “My wife and I currently live with our four-year-old twins in a 5 square-meter room that we’re renting in Paris. The landlady wants us to pay our monthly rent of €400 in cash. I get a little more than €550 in ADA aid for my family. What am I going to do when I can’t withdraw cash anymore?,” he asks, adding that their landlord had already asked the family to vacate the premises by December 5.
“There are a lot of asylum seeking families who pay their rents in cash. That’s often how it’s done in the Paris region, everything is paid for in cash,” he says. “If I don’t find a solution, I’m afraid we will have to sleep on the street. That’s not possible. The girls are too small and it’s way too cold outside.”
The cashback system no one knows about
In addition to the removal of the cash-withdrawal function, only the first 25 ADA card payments come without a service fee. After that, card-holders are charged €0.50 per transaction. For ADA aid recipients, that fee quickly bites into their monthly budget.
Another unwelcome effect of the “electronic-payment-only” system, is that users no longer have an overview of how much money they have left in their accounts. With the cash-withdrawal function, ADA card-holders would get a receipt informing them of their available funds whenever they used an ATM.
“I have several friends who haven’t been able to pay for what they’re buying because they have spent all their money without knowing it,” Sissoko from Mali says.
Didier Leschi, the general director of the French Office for Immigration and Integration (Ofii) which oversees the ADA card and its users, says that he is aware of the problem, but that there is little they can do. “According to the bank operator, it’s a technical detail that is fairly difficult to fix.”
In a bid to overcome the many problems linked to the removal of the cash withdrawal services of the ADA card, Ofii recently introduced a cashback service. The service is available in major supermarkets in France and allows card-users to tap in a higher amount than their products are worth and ask for the surplus to be paid back in cash.
The cashback system has not yet become a widespread practice among ADA card-holders, however, and depends to a great extent on the goodwill of the supermarkets. Many asylum seekers say they had no idea the option even existed.