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Living without a bank account: financial exclusion hits immigrants | Economy

Salif Conte, affected by bank exclusion, at his home in Valencia last Thursday.
Salif Conte, affected by bank exclusion, at his home in Valencia last Thursday.Monica Torres

For Juan (fictitious name at the request of the interviewee) opening a basic payment account has been an odyssey. This 31-year-old Colombian tried it in six different banks and, despite having all the necessary documentation, he got it last week, after three months of struggle. Salif Conte (22 years old) shared the same desperation. It took him a year to open a deposit, even though he had all the required papers. “Without an account he couldn’t pay rent or electricity, and he couldn’t get a job either,” he says angrily. 13 associations and NGOs have denounced 240 banking “irregularities” before the Ombudsman for putting “innumerable obstacles in the access and maintenance of an account”.

The law establishes that banks “are obliged to offer basic payment accounts – with hardly any commissions, designed for people in a vulnerable economic situation – to those potential clients who are asylum seekers or do not have a residence permit, making their expulsion impossible. for legal or factual reasons. Despite this, some banks deny access to these accounts to some migrants, clinging to the money laundering prevention law, which establishes that to open them they have to prove the origin of their income. The Spanish Banking Association (AEB) and the entities consulted by EL PAÍS, Santander, BBVA and CaixaBank, assure that nationality does not influence the treatment of customers and that they are governed by the provision of the Bank of Spain to prevent money laundering. money. According to the AEB, this regulation obliges banks to “extreme vigilance”.

However, for Natalia Slepoy, head of the advocacy area of ​​Red Acoge, one of the complainant organizations, some entities have used this regulation as an excuse to prevent the creation of new basic accounts: “They hide behind the fact that certain nationalities are not acceptable for create an account because they assume that because they come from Syria or Venezuela they are going to launder money.” However, many of them, she says, are applicants for international protection with reports of social vulnerability.

After being harassed by various criminal gangs for thirteen years, Juan arrived in Spain last October hoping to start a new life. He settled in Lardero, a small municipality that borders Logroño, and there he applied for international protection and citizenship income from La Rioja, a monthly subsidy that is close to 500 euros. To receive this benefit it is necessary to have a basic payment account.

A 2014 European directive stated that member states had to have basic payment accounts to “encourage vulnerable consumers who do not have a bank account to participate in the retail banking market”. In 2019, Spain made them free for people with economic vulnerability.

Juan showed the White Sheet to the banks where he went, a provisional document that certifies the acceptance of the asylum application and that includes the Foreigner Identity Number (NIE). Still, they did not open it. “They asked me for my physical National Identity Document (DNI), which I still didn’t have because it was pending, and an income statement from Colombia, which I couldn’t provide either because I haven’t even received three minimum wages there,” he says.

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He had to turn to the NGO Rioja Acoge, an association that promotes the integration of migrants. With his advice, Juan obtained a letter signed by the Logroño City Council justifying the reason why he needed a bank account. Once again they refused, without further explanation. “He was going back and forth to the banks all the time. The downside was more than anything because he was Colombian. That’s pretty much what they told me,” he comments.

Something similar happened to Conte. After obtaining political asylum and the White Sheet, different banks also demanded his passport, because they did not believe that the NIE he provided was his. The young man arrived in Valencia almost three years ago aboard a boat, after a long journey that began in Guinea-Conakry, his native country. He was always clear about his goal in Spain: to get a job. Although several companies wanted to hire him, they couldn’t because he didn’t have a bank account. “If the law says you can have this right, it is your right. No one can take it away from you,” he denounces.

For several months, Conte had to put his money into the account of some friends who helped him. Finally, a social worker from the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid (CEAR) accompanied him to the entity so that they would believe him. “It is not normal for this to happen in Europe,” concludes Conte.

Slepoy points out that they have managed to help many immigrants open an account: “It is proof that the one who is committing an irregularity is the bank (…). Obviously, those people who request it have the right, under current legislation, to have that account opened for them. If not, they would not accept to activate them”. Anabel Marauri, an equal treatment technician, adds that banks do not inform about the necessary requirements to open a basic payment account and do not provide applicants with a written refusal, which is mandatory.

After many misadventures, last week Juan managed to open an account with Banco Santander linked to his passport, although he assures that he will remember the administrative fight he has faced forever. “I chose this country because I knew that I could have a better life here, but I did not expect this racism from the banks,” he laments.

Conte has also won the battle. Eight months ago he found a job in a food delivery company and six months ago he managed to create an account at La Caixa, which had previously rejected him. However, his concern has not ceased: “There are many colleagues who are in the situation I was in.” The associations place special emphasis on the fact that the 240 incidents they have collected since 2020 are the tip of the iceberg and that the majority remain unrecorded.

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