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Somali ambassador condemns UK over cash restrictions

  • @kashmiragander

Britain has failed to see the serious humanitarian consequences of Barclays' decision to stop trading with remittance companies in Somalia, according to the African nation's ambassador to London.

Ali Abdullahi said the decision would cut millions of Somalis off from vital money, sent by relatives working abroad, and that Foreign Secretary William Hague had failed to take the problem "seriously enough".

An estimated £1.5bn is sent to the country each year through remittance companies. But Barclays, the last major UK bank to provide money transfer services to Somalia, has said it will pull out over concerns that the cash could be used to fund terror groups such as al-Shabaab.

A case for an injunction before London's High Court by Dahabshiil, one of four Somali money transfer firms, was adjourned for a fortnight last week and Barclays has said it will wait until 15 October to stop payments.

Mr Abdullahi told The Independent on Sunday: "I hope the UK government will make Barclays understand the seriousness of the situation and how important this is to the Somalis who rely on their family for money. Stopping it will push them to desperate measures... at least keep the operation transparent so we can monitor the money."

The Barclays decision was made before the bombing of the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya. It is intended to protect the company from any penalty similar to the $1.9bn (£1.2bn) fine that HSBC received for being a conduit to money-laundering by Mexican drug cartels.

Sulekha Hassan, the director of the Somalia SOS charity, said: "Barclays are not worried about the humanitarian repercussions... for them, it's purely commercial." She warned that halting remittances was contradictory to British foreign policy, and could be used by al-Shabaab for political gain. "We don't want to give these people an inch in a country that is still fragile," she said.

A Foreign Office source said: "We want Somalis to be able to send money back home safely and efficiently. But, at the same time, we want to prevent money getting into the wrong hands. We remain committed to helping to facilitate a solution."