In May 2013, Barclays informed three-quarters of its clients in the money services business that it was closing their bank accounts. These included many handling overseas money transfers from diaspora communities in the UK to destinations as diverse as Somalia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Yemen, Sri Lanka and Poland.
The International Association of Money Transfer Networks (IAMTN) says that up to 250 companies have been affected by the decision. Notice periods of no more than two months were given. Barclays justified its actions as a move to reduce the risk of being implicated in money-laundering or terrorist financing.
Edward Paice, director of Africa Research Institute, talked toAbdirashid Duale, chief executive of Dahabshiil, the largest money transfer business in the Horn of Africa, about the crucial importance of remittances to the Somali region and the potential impact if money transfers are reduced.
What will be the impact on Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland if money transfers from the UK are curtailed because Dahabshiil and other money transfer agencies are denied access to UK banking facilities?
I can honestly say it would be a recipe for disaster. It is estimated that remittances from the diaspora provide essential support to 40% of the Somali territories. We have nearly 300 branches in the territories and thousands of agents servicing people in towns and rural areas. For them, money sent from relatives overseas is an economic lifeline. It is mainly spent on food, medicines and school fees – for the absolute basics, not for luxuries.
How substantial are these remittances?
More than US$1.2 billion is remitted to the Somali territories annually. This is over half of Somalia’s gross national income. So you can see the importance of remittances to the region. About US$500m is sent from the UK. At Dahabshiil’s branches in the UK, we process hundreds of thousands of transactions each year. The average transaction size is US$200-300.
Are people sending money to their relatives the only users of money transfer services to the Somali region?
Not at all. All the international aid agencies and NGOs use money transfer businesses (MTBs) to operate. They and their partners use us to pay staff, buy equipment and supplies, and make cash payments as part of social safety net programmes.