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Somali Immigrants Want Government Help To Restart Money Transfers To Somalia

City of Seattle Community Tech
Somali immigrants worry about relatives in Somalia who depend on remittances.

Somali immigrants living in Washington hope the federal government will help them restart the flow of money to relatives in Somalia. Those remittances have ground to a halt since a California bank announced last month it would stop handling them.

That leaves an uncertain future for many families in Somalia who depend on money from relatives abroad. Mohammed Jama, executive director of the Abu Bakr Islamic Center in Tukwila, said in the devastated Somali economy, his relatives have hardly any income.

“My dad and my brothers rely on whatever I send there every month for their food, shelter, education, medicine and anything else that they need in their life. So I don’t know how they will survive,” he said.

Rep. Adam Smith, joined by other members of Congress, is to meet with Obama administration officials from nine different agencies Thursday to work on a short-term solution. Jama said he hopes the government will take over some of the services the California bank used to handle, connecting wire-transfer businesses here with distributors in Somalia.

Without a change, Ahmed Jama (no relation to Mohammed), head of the Somali Community Service Coalition, says his family members might have to move into a refugee camp.

“Imagine those families who have no other income. There are no banks in the country, no financial institutions. It may create immeasurable pain and suffering,” he said.

Ahmed Jama said nearly everyone in the Puget Sound Somali community — about 10,000, according to the U.S. Census — is affected by the remittance crisis.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.