MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- U.S. Bank has agreed to open an account that will allow Somalis living in Minnesota to send money to their homeland, reopening a lifeline to relatives living in the war-torn East African country, an advocacy group said Tuesday.
Minnesotans for a Fair Economy said U.S. Bank has agreed to open an account with Dahab-shil, a Minneapolis money service business. A spokeswoman for the Minneapolis-based bank confirmed the agreement.
That account will allow Somalis to send money to their families living in Somalia, 16 months after the last Minnesota bank stopped conducting the transactions, Minnesotans for a Fair Economy said. Many big banks have stopped handling the transfers in recent years, saying the federal requirements designed to crack down on terrorism financing are too complex and not worth the risk. Sunrise Community Banks, a group of independently managed banks, stepped in to fill the need. But in late 2011, Sunrise Community Banks announced it would stop processing the transactions.
In an email, U.S. Bank spokeswoman Teri Charest said over the past year the bank has worked closely with money transfer businesses seeking to send money to Somalia, which lacks a structured banking system. The bank already partners with Western Union, which has outlets in Somalia, but that network does not have as broad a distribution as the Somali community wishes, she said.
"We recognize the need and want to be able to help families send money to their relatives outside of the United States," Charest said.
Somalis in Minnesota, which is home to the largest U.S. Somali community, say their families in Africa might not survive without the monthly remittances they send them. The country was hit hard by drought and famine in 2011, and in January, the U.S. formally recognized the Somali government for the first time since the country fell into anarchy in 1991. The Somali militant group al-Shabab once controlled almost all of Mogadishu. African Union and Somali forces pushed the militants out of the city in 2011, but the fighters have continued to carry out bomb attacks.
"We are pleased that we may have recently found a solution with one remitter in Minneapolis. Although it has taken us some time to get through this process given the complexity of the issues and regulations, we expedited our approval and monitoring to the full extent possible," Charest said.
"This is a very exciting day, not only for my business and me, but also for our entire community," Mohamed Nor of Dahab-shil said in a news release. "I would like to thank U.S. Bank for continuing this conversation over the last year and for taking this important step today. Somali Minnesotans and our families look forward to beginning to restore our lifeline."
The bank hopes to start the transfers soon, Charest said.