Minnesota-based Sunrise Community Banks, the largest U.S. bank that allows Somalis in the U.S. to send money back home, recently decided to halt money transfers back to the famine-stricken nation in an effort to comply with ambiguous U.S. laws on terrorist group financing. However, as CAP’s Sarah Margon noted on this blog last week, the decision means that a “vital lifeline” to Somalia “has vanished.”
In response, Somali-Americans held a rally at the St. Paul, Minnesota capitol building last Friday afternoon “calling on banks and the federal government to find a solution to a continuing crisis affecting their families.” “The money that we are transferring is for starving people,” one rally-goer said. “This is a lifeline,” another demonstrator said, adding, “If they don’t get the money, they are going to starve, which is already they are dying day by day.” Another local Somali said, “It brings tears to us. We can’t even sleep thinking about this.” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) also spoke at the demonstration:
ELLISON: It’s important for all of us to know that as we stand here calling for simple justice that we don’t stand here alone. Our friends in the Christian community, other communities all over the state of Minnesota care about making sure that the lifeline stays in place for the people of Somalia.
Watch clips from the rally here:
In a letter to Secretary of State Clinton last month, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) highlighted three major concerns he had in cutting off the remittances:
First, it would deprive many Somalis of a major source of sustenance. [...] Second, the lack of legitimate means for the transmission of funds to Somalia may end up driving people into more difficult-to-track channels for sending money, which heightens the risk of funds ending up in the hands of bad actors. Third, an end to the flow of remittances from the U.S. to Somalia would be a potential victory for al-Shabbab, which could then claim that America was preventing needed funds from getting to suffering Somalis.
Sunrise Community Banks said last week that it “has been and remains open to facilitating money transfers to Somalia.” In a statement on its website, they said they “reached out to multiple government agencies and officials, have made a specific proposal, and have told the agencies that we are seeking a constructive exchange with them in an effort to reach an accommodation that would satisfy the concerns of those sending funds, the government and the bank.”