Minneapolis (Alshahid)-Money-transfer services that cater to Somali immigrants in Minnesota have stopped accepting money bound for the Horn of Africa country, a day before a key bank was due to stop processing the transactions.
Somalia has appealed the decision by Sunrise Community Banks to end the remittances program from Minnesota, the state that is home to the largest Somali-American community in the United States. U.S.-based Somalis send about $100 million back home each year, according to the U.S. Treasury.
The move to shut down the service came two months after two Somali-American women from Rochester, Minnesota, were convicted of raising money for Alshabab rebels, al Qaeda-linked militants who control parts of Somalia.
Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison says he is trying to reach a solution with Sunrise and government agencies.
“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,” Ellison said. “I was dealing with this same conversation a year and a half ago with a large major bank who said, ‘We’re not going to do these transactions anymore.’ Why? ‘Just because we don’t know what the risks are, so we’re just not going to do it.”
Ellison believes Sunrise is the last remaining U.S. bank to work with the transmitters. Ideally, he said, Somali-American investors could form their own community bank that could open accounts with the hawalas. He said he has also approached State and Treasury departments about issuing Sunrise a waiver that would protect them from the risk of prosecution.
The Somali American Money Services Association said the businesses complied with state and federal laws and believed they were being singled out and denied vital banking services.
“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,” the association said in a statement.
The association said services would resume once a solution could be found.