Somalians caught in crossfire as US bank withdraws cash lifeline

The plight of millions facing starvation is to be made worse by America's new anti-terror legislation

New York

There were urgent warnings yesterday that a decision by a large American bank to stop allowing money transfers from Somali-Americans to relatives and friends in Somalia – a vital lifeline for much of its famine-struck population – could lead to a worsening of the already dire humanitarian crisis there.

Hundreds of Somali-Americans were due to march through Minneapolis last night to protest against the decision by Sunrise Community Banks to back out of executing remittances to Somalia for fear it may find itself in violation of US government anti-terror regulations. The Somali government, as well as its mission to the United Nations, is also appealing to Washington to step in to keep the money flowing.

“This is the worst time for this service to stop. Any gaps with remittance flows in the middle of the famine could be disastrous,” said Shannon Scribner, Oxfam America's humanitarian policy manager, who calculates that up to $100m in remittances could now be in jeopardy. “The US government should give assurances to the bank that there will be no legal ramifications of providing this service to Somalis in need.”

The Somali government says as much as $2bn a year – one third of its gross domestic product – comes to the country as remittances handled in Somalia by local transfer enterprises called hawala. Any drop-off in that source of income threatens only to further destabilise the already impoverished country, which has suffered a prolonged civil war and has no traditional banking system.

A group of money-wire businesses in Minneapolis, home to the largest Somali-American population in the US, said they could no longer accept payments for Somalia because they relied on the Sunrise Community Banks to execute them. Hinda Ali, for the Somali-American Money Services Association, underlined the hardship it could cause.

“A tremendous amount of lives will be lost because they cannot get medical care,” she said. The association added: “Remittance is an essential lifeline for the Somali people, and it is the only source of funding that sustains the livelihood of millions of Somalis, mostly women and children.”

US financial institutions face large penalties if they fail to guard against handling money bound for any terror-related entities. Transfers to Somalia have came under particular scrutiny since the conviction a few weeks ago of two women from Rochester, Minnesota, for raising and transferring funds to al-Shabaab rebels in Somalia, which, according to the US government, has links to al-Qa'ida.

In a statement, Sunrise Banks said it empathised with the Somali people “during this very difficult and uncertain time”. It added: “We continue to work tirelessly with the community and government officials to create a temporary legal and regulatory solution. Until that solution is found, the bank must continue to comply with all US laws and banking regulations.”

Among those pressing the Obama administration to intervene has been Keith Ellison, the only Muslim member of the US Congress whose district includes Minneapolis. “The problem is not just this one bank. The problem is nearly all the banks have sort of stopped out of the business of facilitating remittances to East Africa,” he said.

In New York, the first secretary of the Somali mission to the UN, Omar Jamal, held out hope an arrangement to re-open the remittance lifeline would be reached. “This is a crisis, a humanitarian one, and hopefully a solution will be reached soon,” Mr Jamal said.

Many Somali-Americans feel they are being discriminated against because of a very small, but highly publicised, number of cases linking them to Islamic rebels in the Horn of Africa.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine