Humanitarian groups urge banks to ease remittances to Somalia

Remittance rally
In a file photo from December 2011, hundreds of East Africans gathered in Peavey Park in Minneapolis to protest the cutoff of remittances to family members in Somalia.
MPR Photo/Rupa Shenoy

Humanitarian groups are urging more banks to take on accounts with money-transfer companies that send cash to Somalia.

A recent report illustrates the fragile relationship between the remittance companies and banks that make the money transfers possible.

Scott Paul, a humanitarian policy advisor for the global antipoverty group Oxfam America, said that tighter regulations after the 9/11 terrorist attacks have caused even small banks to refuse to work with Somali remitters.

"One by one, they're getting involved, they're helping transfer money," he said, "and then they're getting out of the business because they decide that the business is too risky for them."

But Paul said those risks can be managed. His group's report also recommends that money-transfer companies improve training to help employees detect suspicious activities.

The remittance companies scrambled to find new partners two years ago after a Minnesota community bank announced it was closing the accounts. The decision came after two Rochester women were convicted of funneling money to a Somali terror group.

Paul said some banks are balking based on preconceived notions.

"What we're asking of banks is to not make indiscriminate decisions, and given all that's stake, to work individually with these money-transfer companies, see if some of them are account-worthy, and for those that aren't, help bring them up to standards so that they can continue to send money back to Somalia," Paul said.

U.S. Bank says it's working closely with a large Somali-American remittance company to facilitate the transactions, but a final agreement is not yet in place.

Remittances have been a lifeline for Somalia's economy. The hundreds of millions of dollars that Somali-Americans send to their homeland every year is comparable to the amount that the U.S. government gives to Somalia in humanitarian and developmental aid.

The report was co-authored by Oxfam America, Adeso and the Inter-American Dialogue.

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