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Somalia may lose $100m in American remittances

Famine-affected Somalis may lose their access to about $100 million in remittances from relatives living in the US, according to charities. NGOs have urged the Treasury and a US bank to not disrupt cash transfers to Somalia, a place where over 250,000 people are affected by famine.

The Franklin Bank, considered the last major American bank offering remittance aid to Somalis, says it will end its services on December 30th due to US counter-terrorism laws. The US Treasury has ordered banks to observe diligence rules, but says that it has not speculated that money transmitters represent a homogeneous or exceeding risk of money laundering.

Oxfam America is pleading with The Franklin Bank and hawalas (money transfer firms in Somalia, where no banks exist) to collaborate with the American government to seek a solution.

Oxfam America’s Shannon Scribner said that about $100 million in remittances are sent from the US to Somalia each year, adding that this would be the worst time for the service to stop. She argued that any gaps in remittance flow during the famine would be disastrous, also urging the US government to guarantee that the bank would not face any legal ramifications of offering this service to Somali people in need.

It is generally believed that if Franklin Bank stops this service, smaller money sending businesses may follow suit. Many businesses fear facing legal consequences if money ever reached the wrong hands, including those of al-Shabab, which is a militant group linked to al-Qaeda. Daniel Wordsworth, who is president of the American Refugee Committee, called the possible end of bank transfers “devastating” at the national level, especially when famine and drought are already impacting communities in Somalia.

Oxfam has interviewed one mother of six children in Lower Juba, Somalia, who receives money from her brother in the US. Habiba Abdi Ali received a call from him a week ago, when she was told she would be receiving the last cash flow, since the hawala may stop working. She said that her family was relying 100% on this cash, adding that, if it stops, they would have no option except to go to a refugee camp in Kenya.

The US Treasury has announced that it regularly engages with the Somali-American community in order to encourage the continued operation of lawful and transparent remittance methods. US officials said it believed that the community would carry on having access to money transfers to Somalia.

 

 

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