US bank closes money-wiring service to Somalia

About 250,000 Somalis on the brink of starvation have been dealt another blow: the closure Friday (Dec.30) of a U.S. bank’s money-wiring service.

Minnesota-based Sunrise Community Banks halted its money transfer services to avoid being accused of violating U.S. laws on financing terror groups, but denied the decision has anything to do with reports of Minnesota-based Somalis allegedly funding al-Shabab militants.

Aid agencies such as Oxfam and American Refugee Committee have already warned of the devastating effect this could have in Somalia, where many are reliant on remittance money. They urged the bank and the U.S. government to find a way to keep the service open.

“Through remittances, American Somalis provide a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of people,” ARC President Daniel Wordsworth said. “With famine and drought already impacting families throughout Somalia, the cessation of bank transfers will be devastating on a national scale.”

Meanwhile, Oxfam America’s humanitarian policy manager Shannon Scribner said this is the “worst time” to stop such a service. She said aid should be protected and increased, especially at a time when millions are in great need.

Said Sheikh Abdi of the ARC said a few small banks in the United States still allow Somali money-transfer businesses to send cash, but these, too, may soon follow Sunrise Community Banks’ lead, the BBC reports.

The U.S. Treasury has laid out several options for U.S.-based Somalis to send money home, including setting up accounts in other U.S. banks, sending money through other money transmitters, or shipping cash or money orders to hubs in Dubai, where payouts to Somalia can be arranged. Somali populations in the United States, specifically in Minnesota, however, said the options were “not practical.”

Abdulaziz Sugule, former chairman of the Somali Money Services Business and now a consultant on the issue, said sending cash is “risky.” He said people handling the money are at risk of being robbed, or worse, killed. He also said going through multiple money service businesses adds layers of cost and time, The Associated Press reports.

The bank said it would consider extending its service if it received some way of minimizing the risk. U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones said, however, that “Federal prosecutors don’t give waivers.”

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.