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A girl from southern Somalia sits outside a makeshift shelter at a refugee camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, Tuesday, Aug 9, 2011. She's among the large number of people fleeing famine-hit areas of Somalia.

Farah Abdi Warsameh, Associated Press - Ap

Money must continue to flow to Somalia

  • Article by: MOHAMED HUSSEIN
  • January 3, 2012 - 8:52 PM
These days, there are worries within the Somali community in Minnesota, as well as in other states: How can people safely send money to loved ones in the Horn of Africa -- and, more specifically, in Somalia -- following the Twin Cities-based Sunrise Community Bank's decision to close the accounts of its Somali American Money Transfer Businesses?

This decision means that Somali-Americans cannot contribute to the fundamental support of their loved ones. There are no other ways to safely transfer money to Somalia, where there are no functioning banks.

One question is what the impact will be, in the short and the long terms, if Sunrise (the bank that handles a large amount of Somali money transfers from Minnesota) and other American banks won't work with the hawalas?

Another question is whether the hawalas will work with the U.S. government to find a solution.

Somalia's GDP is one of the lowest in the world; its economy is heavily dependent upon remittances from Somalis in the Western diaspora. Remittances have provided a safety net for Somali families subsisting within an anarchic and stateless land for the past 15 years.

Unemployment in Somalia remains systemically high, and many families survive on the money they get from remittances.

Literally millions of people will be at risk of slipping further into food insecurity -- already exacerbated by drought and famine. Does this decision actually condemn tens of thousands of Somalis within Somalia to death?

As we know, during 2011 a drought hit much of the Horn of Africa, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and Somalia. However, Somalia was different from other countries in the Horn, because of persistent conflict and statelessness over two decades. In this case, the drought hit with a particularly overwhelming impact.

As a result, more than 150,000 Somalis are estimated to have died of malnutrition and related causes, and almost 3 million Somalis remain in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

During this particularly tough time, the Somali community in the United States has sent millions of dollars (using the remittance system) to help their brothers and sisters. If the remittance system is closed, it is likely to accelerate a U.N.-declared humanitarian crisis and famine in Somalia.

What is more, if the remittance system is closed down here in the United States, that decision may affect the perceptions of other Western countries, such as Canada, Australia and countries in Europe, plus the Arab World.

A worldwide closure would directly cause hundreds of thousands of further deaths that could have been prevented.

This will probably generate more ill will toward the United States within Somali communities both in Somali and in Western countries. The threat of increased radicalization exists.

Thus, U.S. law that has been drawn up to help prevent radical organizations from operating and recruiting against the country may well end up generating a further wave of radicalization and ill will.

Finally, the closure of a remittance system allowing funds to be transferred to Somalia will put back the little progress that has been made there, and will most certainly guarantee that Somalia grinds through yet another decade of anarchy and despair.

I hope remittance agencies and U.S. banks and the U.S. Justice Department will come up with a workable long-term solution, and I hope the Obama administration will consider this a priority.

* * *

Mohamed Hussein lives in Minneapolis.


 

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