Aid groups lobby US not to shut off remittances to Somalia

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Aid groups are lobbying the US treasury to provide assurances to a community bank that it will not be prosecuted for resuming remittance services to Somalia, where 250,000 people are still affected by famine.

Sunrise Community Banks in the state of Minnesota last week announced it would stop processing remittances to Somalia because it risked violating government rules designed to block the funding of terrorist groups. The bank was a major lifeline for Somalis, and one of very few still offering remittances to Somalia.

“It is estimated that $100m in remittances goes to Somalia from the US every year. This is the worst time for this service to stop. Any gaps with remittance flows in the middle of the famine could be disastrous,” said Shannon Scribner, Oxfam America’s humanitarian policy manager. “The US government should give assurances to the bank that there will be no legal ramifications of providing this service to Somalis in need.”

Interagency discussions are under way, Scribner said, and Somali Americans are planning demonstrations to put pressure on the US government and Sunrise to resolve the issue. “But we know from experience that these legal obstacles can take a long time to resolve,” said Scribner. “The bank has said it needs assurances or a waiver that it won’t be prosecuted in any way before it restarts the remittances. It is complicated and it is difficult to manoeuvre around these laws.”
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