Somali-Americans trying to send money to loved ones in their homeland have become increasingly frustrated after the treasury department restricted transfers amid concerns that some of the money may have been used to fund terrorist organizations. The last U.S. bank to allow wire transfers to Somali, Franklin Bank, announced last December it would no longer allow Somali hawalas – an underground banking system based on trust whereby money can be made available internationally – to hold accounts with the bank.
“Somalia is experiencing the worst famine in six decades and it’s exacerbated by the fact that the country is operating with no government,” said Ellison, who along with Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken met with U.S. Treasury undersecretary of terrorism and financial intelligence, David Cohen to discuss ways for Americans to send money to the war-torn African nation and ways banks and hawalas can operate with greater transparency.
“Lives are on the line. If money is turned off from remittances, it will turn on an opportunity for al-Shabab,” said Ellison referring to an organization with believed ties to al-Qaida, operating within the Somali borders. According to Ellison, nearly $150 million dollars annually are sent from people in the United States to those in Somalia. The congressman said with no other methods of getting money to Somalis in need, some may resort to the dangerous endeavor of transporting cash into the country.
Ellison said the famine is affecting close to 12 million people. “The situation is dire,” said the Minnesota representative.
Somalia has been without an official government since 1991. Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the nation.