Money-wiring shutdown worries local Somalis

The war on terrorism is making life difficult for local Somalis.

Last month, owners of Somali money-lending businesses, called hawalas, were notified by St. Paul-based Sunrise Community Banks that they would no longer be able to wire money back home. Sunrise was the last bank in Minnesota to offer that service.

The news posed a huge problem for the area's 32,000 Somalis, many of whom have family in East Africa that rely on money transfers for basic needs.

Sunrise said it feared continuing to allow the money transfers might unintentionally violate complex regulations designed to combat terror financing.

According to the Uptake, U.S.-based Somalis are believed to send about $100 million back home each year. This financial support is believed to constitute as much as one-third of Somalia's GNP.

The Star Tribune quotes Mohamed Muse, a 25-year-old Minneapolis cab driver, as saying he's "very worried that my kids are [in Somalia] and there is nothing I can do for them. I have the money in my pocket and there is no way for me to send [it]."

Last Friday, local Somalis, unions, and political groups protested at the State Capitol and demanded something be done to reallow money transfers. Shortly thereafter, Minneapolis-based Tawakai Money Express announced it would allow people to send a maximum of $500 to Somali for family emergencies.

Area legislators, including State Senator Jeff Hayden, Congressman Keith Ellison, and Senator Al Franken, are working to make it easier for local Somalis to send money back home.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Franken writes: "Ending remittances from the United States would be a victory for [militant Islamic group] al Shabab which could claim America was preventing needed funds from getting to suffering Somalis."

Chalk it up as one more unintended consequence of America's war on terror.

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