Somalis seek long-term fix to money transfers

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 18, 2012 - 9:15 PM

One protest leader said concerns weren't addressed by Wells Fargo, which had a different opinion.

A growing number of reopened Somali-owned money-transfer shops are allowing a trickle of money to resume flowing to the embattled African nation, but members of the local Somali community want a permanent solution to ensure they can send desperately needed money home to their families.

On Wednesday, community members met with officials of Wells Fargo Bank, which cut ties with the money-service businesses in 2008 to avoid running afoul of federal rules intended to prohibit the flow of funds to terrorist groups.

The closed-door meeting followed recent protests at local Wells Fargo banks in Minneapolis in which some Somali-American customers closed their Wells Fargo accounts.

Abdirahman Muse, who attended the meeting, said he was disappointed by Wells Fargo's response to community concerns.

"They were not ready to address our concerns," said Muse, who has helped organize the bank protests and said more protests are planned. "They talked to us about how they care about the community. They were just trying to make a P.R. issue."

Wells Fargo leaders, in contrast, walked away satisfied with the outcome.

"From our side, we felt it was a good meeting," Wells Fargo regional spokeswoman Staci Schiller said.

But Wells Fargo leaders have no plans to resume working with the money-transfer shops, she added, and no other meetings have been scheduled to discuss the issue.

"This issue is not Wells Fargo," Hussein Samatar, executive director of African Development Center of Minnesota said recently. "This is an issue bigger than Wells Fargo that needs to be resolved."

The concerns about financial access to Somalia became critical on Dec. 30, when Sunrise Community Banks closed its accounts with the money-transfer companies. The action triggered the shutdown of more than a dozen Somali-owned money-transfer companies in Minnesota, which has the nation's largest Somali-American population.

Sunrise officials have said they are working to find a way to reopen the accounts, asking federal officials for a reprieve from the regulations holding them liable if any money they handle winds up in terrorist hands. The FBI has designated Al-Shabab, one of the warring factions in Somalia, as a terrorist group.

Similar waivers have been granted to humanitarian aid groups. Such a move would allow cash to continue flowing at a time when Somalia is still reeling from a devastating famine.

This week, many local money-transfer shops re-opened on a limited basis using unnamed banks from other states to wire small amounts of money overseas.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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