Mayors call for restoration of Somali remittances

Mayor Hodges moves resolution at U.S. Conference of Mayors

The U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution June 22 calling for action at the federal level to help Somali immigrants send money home to their families.

Moved by Mayor Betsy Hodges and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, the resolution is a response to the Merchants Bank of California’s February closing of all Somali-American money transfer operators’ accounts. It was adopted during the 83rd annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors held June 19–22 in San Francisco.

Merchants Bank of California, which previously handled 80 percent of remittances sent to Somalia from the U.S., cited the increasing difficulty to comply with federal money laundering and terrorism financing regulations as the reason it closed the accounts.

Hodges said she would like banks to work together with Somali wiring agencies “so that hard-working [Somali] residents of Minneapolis can help support their families.”

“Minneapolis is proud to be home to such a large and vibrant Somali community. Their ability to send money home provides loved ones in Somalia with a critical lifeline that we must protect,” Hodges said.

The resolution cites several harms caused by inhibiting Somali remittances, noting that the money is often used for basic needs such as food, water, clothing, and education. Around 40 percent of Somalia’s population depends on remittance funds for survival, Oxfam has reported.

It also argues inhibiting remittances through federal action “contributes to the increase and proliferation of illicit dealers,” as without the necessary means to survive, more people might have no other option than to turn to crime, including joining terrorist organizations such as Al-Shabaab.

Oxfam America President Raymond C. Offenheiser noted remittances comprise the “single largest sector of [Somalia’s] economy.”

“These funds help Somalis meet their most basic needs. The U.S. government must pay urgent attention to hard-working Somali-Americans who are struggling to support their loved ones,” Offenheiser said.