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
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez missed a penalty before scoring the opening goal with a header at the back post
footballLive! Sanchez makes up for penalty miss to put Arsenal ahead
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all