In August, Oxfam America’s Scott Paul traveled to Somaliland to research a money transfer system that helps support countless families in the region. A senior humanitarian policy advisor, Paul discusses how remittances provide a lifeline to Somalilanders and people all across the Somali region. This is the third in a series of three blogs on the topic.
During Ramadan, the month of fasting and reflection in Islam, Muslims are expected to send gifts to their loved ones and increase their charitable giving. That was the month I was in Hargeisa, Somaliland, trying to understand how the money transfer system so many people depend on works—and how to make sure it keeps working.
Knowing that a $60 transfer had arrived for me I took my place behind a long procession of Somalilanders eager to collect funds that their relatives, friends and broader kin had sent from other countries. I’m certain it was the same all over Somalia – people were waiting on line to collect money they desperately need to get by.
Earlier in the day, staffers at the Dahabshiil branch had kindly given me a tour of the company’s compliance practices. Dahabshiil puts every US-Somalia money transfer through two rounds of vetting– one automatically when their agents collect the money and one by the compliance department before payment is issued – to make sure it doesn’t violate US counterterror laws. The branch office’s anti-money laundering officer usually only does a third check on what the US calls “suspicious transactions,” transfers of more than $10,000. But to help me understand the system better, the branch officer ran my $60 through that anti-money laundering check, too.
After the remittance clerk made a copy of my passport and took down my information, I was finally ready . . . to sign the paperwork, collect a voucher and wait in another long line of restless Somalilanders. But it didn’t take long for me to present my voucher and collect my money.
Oxfam is committed to helping Somalis find a way out of the current humanitarian emergency and build a secure and prosperous future. So we’re studying the US laws on money laundering and trying to figure out whether Dahabshiil or the other dozen or so other Somali money transfer companies can do anything to put themselves on stronger footing to ensure they can continue the service. Abdirashid Duale, the Dahabshiil CEO, is convinced they’ve done everything that’s required of them and more. And we’re looking at what banks and the government can do to better facilitate the Somali remittance system without compromising their efforts to weed out money laundering.
No matter what conclusions we reach, from my experience in August, two things are clear. First, the perception of all Islamic money service businesses in Somalia as insecure, informal, and uncommitted to compliance with US law needs to be thoroughly re-examined. Second, any interruption in the flow of remittances to Somalia would abruptly sever a critical lifeline to the Somali people, who have suffered through a humanitarian crisis for 20 years and counting. Such a cruel turn of fate would be unfair for any country, let alone one that has weathered so much hardship for so long.