Zakat, the obligatory alms tax in Islam, is a mandatory charitable contribution that people with net wealth above a certain threshold must pay. It is derived from specific sources of wealth, such as livestock, savings, trade goods, crops, and minerals (gold and silver), and is distributed to designated categories of recipients.
Zakat is meant for eight categories of eligible recipients mentioned in the Holy Quran: "Alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect them [Zakat], those whose hearts are to be reconciled, captives, debtors, in the cause of Allah, and wayfarers...". Today's refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) typically fall under at least four of these categories: the poor, the needy, the debtors, and the wayfarers.
The Refugee Zakat Fund is a trusted, compliant, and effective mechanism harnessing the power of Zakat (and Sadaqah) to assist eligible refugees and IDPs. It aims to enable UNHCR to help vulnerable refugee and internally displaced families in need, including widows and their children (female-headed households) who have no other sources of income or support.
UNHCR’s Refugee Zakat Fund has received more than 15 fatwas and endorsements from major Islamic scholars and institutions, endorsing UNHCR as a legitimate recipient of Zakat contributions. These include International Islamic Fiqh Academy (IIFA) and Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy. These fatwas form the governance foundations for the Fund. You can read all the fatwas here.
Governance of the Refugee Zakat Fund has three pillars: financial governance, Zakat compliance, and assessment and monitoring. You can read more about these pillars here.
In 2022, UNHCR distributed Zakat contributions received through the Refugee Zakat Fund to eligible refugee and internally displaced families in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Tunisia, and Yemen. If you would like to make Zakat contributions to displaced people in a country not listed on the website, you can make a bank transfer (account details below) and specify the destination of your contribution or contact us directly at email@example.com.
Based on the fatwas received, UNHCR’s Refugee Zakat Fund follows a 100% Zakat distribution policy. UNHCR distributes most Zakat contributions made to through Refugee Zakat Fund as Zakat-compliant cash assistance. When distributing cash is not possible or not desired by the donor, Zakat contributions are distributed in the form of Zakat-compliant goods programmes, which guarantee the transfer of ownership of that assistance to the beneficiaries. These programmes include the distribution of school equipment, shelter materials, and items that allow beneficiaries to start a small business. Cash assistance remains one of the most effective ways to help refugee or displaced families secure their basic needs and live in dignity. Zakat contributions are distributed as cash in several countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Indonesia, and Iraq. For Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, Zakat contributions are currently dedicated to providing families with materials that help protect shelters against adverse weather conditions. In Nigeria, Zakat is distributed in the force of items that allow beneficiaries to start small businesses. And in Syria, Zakat is distributed in the form of relief items, such as blankets, cooking utensils and mattresses.
Most fatwas received by UNHCR to endorse the Refugee Zakat Fund, recommend that UNHCR doesn’t deduct fees or wages from Zakat contributions. As UNHCR is committed to complying with the fatwa recommendations, we have been subsidising, from our own budget, Zakat distribution Indirect Support Costs (ISCs), which is a standard 6.5% across all donations that UNHCR receives globally, as well as online donation fees.
This is a standard 6.5% that we apply to any contribution we receive globally, to help us cover overhead costs related to coordination and implementation of our humanitarian programmes.
Thanks to your trust and the trust of thousands of Zakat donors globally, the number of Zakat contributions made through the Refugee Zakat Fund has grown and its impact on refugees and IDPs has spread across several OIC countries in MENA, Asia, and Africa. UNHCR now needs support in covering the costs of distributing these contributions. That is why we are proposing to Zakat donors to kindly consider topping up their Zakat contributions with a 6.5% Sadaqah donation. This will allow us to continue our 100% Zakat distribution policy and comply with the fatwas.
No, it will not. UNHCR will cover these costs from its own budget.
UNHCR has received 15 fatwas that govern the way it must manage and distribute Zakat contributions, and one of the key recommendations is not to deduct any fees or wages, as UNHCR is not considered as an 'amil (administrator) of Zakat'.
UNHCR uses Sadaqah donations made through the Refugee Zakat Fund to implement cash, goods and services programmes, such as education, health, livelihoods support, etc. Contributions specified as Sadaqah Jariyah are normally dedicated for water activities, including the construction and rehabilitation of boreholes and wells.
In 2022, UNHCR used Sadaqah donations made through the Refugee Zakat Fund to implement programmes for the benefit of eligible displaced families in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Greece, India, Iran, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tunisia, Ukraine, and Yemen. Sadaqah donations can be made through this link.
The cash assistance program is one of the most important humanitarian programmes that UNHCR implements, through an expansive cash distribution network in many countries in MENA, Africa, and Asia. Technology such as ATMs, iris scans, and mobile wallets is used to deliver cash contributions and Zakat to the most eligible refugees and IDPs.
Through annual post-cash distribution monitoring exercises, UNHCR has found that recipients consistently spend cash on essentials. Refugees and IDPs primarily spend cash assistance to cover rent, food, healthcare, and debt repayment, among other essentials. The cash assistance program has saved the most eligible families from eviction, helped cover medical costs, reduced child labour and other exploitative work conditions, and ensured many families can send their children to school and repay some of the debts that weigh heavily on their shoulders. The most vulnerable families continue to receive support from the cash programme until UNHCR helps them become self-reliant or finds other durable solutions for them.
The destination of Zakat contributions is dictated by the donor. In every relevant destination country, UNHCR follows a comprehensive vulnerability assessment framework to identify eligible beneficiaries among refugees and IDPs.
The Refugee Zakat Fund focuses on digital contributions for ease, speed, and transparency However, you can also transfer your Zakat to a dedicated interest-free bank account in Geneva:
Yes, UNHCR issues reports twice each year (one mid-year and one annual) on the impact of Zakat and Sadaqah contributions made through the Refugee Zakat Fund, as well as how and where they are distributed and the number of beneficiaries. You can read the latest report here, and all previous reports here.
UNHCR does receive funding from governments; however, due to the unprecedented increase in the number of refugees and IDPs globally, accompanied by the increase in their humanitarian needs, this funding doesn’t fully cover our important work in the humanitarian response to displacement crises. We are addressing that shortfall through innovative programs such as the Refugee Zakat Fund, which allow UNHCR to meet some of the urgent humanitarian needs of refugees and IDPs.