The Finnish Immigration Service has conducted an extensive investigation into returning the funds remaining in asylum seekers’ Moni card accounts. So far, no satisfactory solution has been found.
Moni cards were prepaid cards meant for the payment of reception allowance to asylum seekers. Even employers were able to pay an asylum seeker’s wages onto the card.
The Finnish Immigration Service discontinued its contract with the card provider, Moni Nordic, in 2019. After a tendering process, reception centres across Finland adopted a new payment card solution. The funds that the clients had on their Moni cards were supposed to be transferred onto a new card. After the transfer period, some clients reported that some of the money had not transferred onto their new cards.
According to information gathered from clients, the amount of money still left on the old card varies. Individual asylum seekers may have up to several thousand euros on their card. Based on the information gathered, it is estimated that the total amount of money that has not been returned is approximately EUR 60,000. This sum consists mostly of outstanding wages.
The use of Moni cards for the payment of reception allowance to asylum seekers was a pilot scheme run in some reception centres. Getting one's wages paid onto the card was possible for clients in all reception centres.
The Finnish Immigration Service holds that the responsibility for returning the clients’ funds lies with the service provider, Moni Nordic, or its partner companies who were tasked with managing the funds.
The Finnish Immigration Service does not know the exact number of clients affected or the exact amounts of money that have not been returned. Despite several requests, the card provider has not provided the Finnish Immigration Service with information on the unreturned funds or on how many card holders the situation concerns.
“The situation is very unfortunate for the clients who have lost their money, and embarrassing for the Finnish Immigration Service. The funds belong to people who are in such a vulnerable position that they realistically have no chance to track down the money on their own or to take legal action to reclaim it. This is why we have tried, in many ways, to help find a solution to this matter,” says Pekka Nuutinen, Director of the Reception Unit at the Finnish Immigration Service.
In addition to the unreturned funds, there are unresolved private-law disputes between the Finnish Immigration Service and Moni Nordic which are not related to the funds of Moni card users. Mainly, the disputes concern Moni Nordic's contract-based duties in situations involving a change of service provider as well as the accuracy of certain invoices of Moni Nordic. The parties also disagree on VAT refunds.
Other authorities have been involved
In July 2020, the Finnish Immigration Service reported the matter to the police because the agency’s authority to act in the matter is limited. On 26 March 2021, the Helsinki Police Department decided not to initiate a criminal investigation because it found that there are no grounds to suspect Moni Nordic of a criminal offence in the matter. The police considered the matter to be a claim of damages governed by contract law. The Finnish Police does not have the authority to investigate Moni Nordic’s international partners.
Despite the decision by the police, the Finnish Immigration Service will request a prosecutor to assess whether a criminal investigation in accordance with the Criminal Investigation Act is necessary in the matter.
The Finnish Immigration Service has also been in contact with the Financial Supervisory Authority in order to solve the issue. Moni Nordic has partnered with an international bank, IDT, but the bank's operations do not belong under the supervision of Finnish authorities. According to the information the Finnish Immigration Service has received, the IDT bank is of the opinion that the bank does not have the funds in its possession.
The Finnish Immigration Service has also tried to solve the problems with the help of a contract lawyer. At the moment, the Finnish Immigration Service is considering filing a criminal complaint with the authorities of Gibraltar and England.
Information on the investigation and on what action to take has been given to the agency’s card-owning clients through a customer bulletin and in reception centres.
As for any potential claims against the Finnish Immigration Service, the agency has advised its clients to contact the State Treasury, which is the authority responsible for deciding claims for compensation made against the State of Finland.
Clients' needs led to the introduction of payment cards
The use of Moni cards began in the autumn of 2015. They were used for the payment of reception allowance to asylum seekers. Reception allowance is a statutory allowance meant to cover an asylum seeker’s immediate basic needs. Even employers were able to pay an asylum seeker’s wages onto the card.
At the Finnish Immigration Service, the Moni cards were an experiment born out of a pressing need to move from paying the reception allowance in cash to using modern payment cards. The introduction of payment cards helped reception centres in the difficult situation during the autumn of 2015 when the number of asylum seekers increased within in a short time period.
Another important factor behind the introduction of payment cards was that it allowed asylum seekers to work: Asylum seekers often lack the necessary documents for opening a bank account, and the introduction of payment cards allowed many asylum seekers to start working in Finland.
“From the Finnish Immigration Service’s point of view, there was an ambition to solve the issue of asylum seekers’ reception allowance and salary matters in a client-friendly way,” says Nuutinen.
At present, the Finnish Immigration Service obtains asylum seekers’ payment cards from another card provider that has won a public tendering process arranged by Hansel, the central purchasing body for central and local governments in Finland.
Source: Finnish Immigration Service