A human rights organization in Somaliland recently conducted a pilot survey on the impact of bank accounts closures to Somali remittance companies operating from the United Kingdom. A preliminary report it issued highlighted a number of alarming facts that prominently stood out of the findings. Among these were that illegal immigration among university-going students nearly tripled since May when Barclay’s made its intention of terminating operations with remittance companies first surfaced.
“We cannot wait for a day when there is no more hope for us to continue our University education,” a sophomore student who dropped out to prepare for an uncertain fate on the seas told the Somaliland-based human rights watch officers. “Now my uncle can at least see to it that I stand a fighting chance through the Libyan Desert onwards to a fifty-fifty survival chance to Italy by being able to send me some money before the last of the remittance companies’ accounts with Barclays finally closes”.
In a CCTV Africa story that the Chinese station aired recently, a Mogadishu University student said he will drop out of university if the Barclays decision went through. He said he was studying medicine, and had two more years left. He said his family received remittances from London. He said if remittances were affected, that will ‘severe’ the family’s lifeline, including their education and health.
Equally alarming was the despondence and resigned desperation showing among the bulk of beneficiaries receiving remittances from family members residing and/or working abroad. Even those that had no relatives in the UK felt uneasy and unsure of the negative influence the UK bank would have on others all over the world if it got away with its decision.
“The only effective social security system that Somalis always fell back on was the extended family system and the unwritten law that no family member went hungry when close relatives had something to spare him,” a University lecturer in Hargeisa told me. “Remittance beneficiaries cannot certainly live without it for a year or more until the UK government finds another ‘safe corridor’ for Somali-bound remittances,” he said.
The Presidents of Somalia, Somaliland, and of other IGAD countries all strongly pleaded with the UK government and the Bank to stop going ahead with the accounts closures.
Not only Somalis, but humanitarian organizations working inside Somali territories did not make a secret of their concern. The organizations highlighted in reports they sent to Barclays and the UK government that the lifesaving efforts on the ground will be severely curtailed if a workable solution is not found for the flow of remittances and money transfers to Somalis. Likewise, politicians, academicians, human rights organizations.
In a bid to make Barclays retract its decision, Dahabshiil, the largest African remittance company – and the last have its accounts still open with Barclays, served a high court injunction against the closure of its accounts to the Bank. The court hearing was concluded on Wednesday. A court decision is expected on Tuesday, October 22.
It is estimated that Somalis remit some 100 million Pounds from the UK. Among these are transfers bound for humanitarian programs that international organizations and institutions, such as the DFiD, are financing to help Somalis firmly stand on their feet once more. The primary purpose of allocated funds on the part of governments and international organizations is to avert dependence and deprivation – two certain results of the Bank’s decision if it wins on Tuesday’s ruling.
Turning a deaf ear to everybody is not an option – not for the Bank, not for the Court. If nothing else a diplomatic strain on African UK relations will ensue.
For Somalis – and Africans, in general – a court ruling in favor of the flow of remittances to Africa is the only one they can truly accept. Anything else, it is widely believed, is tantamount to a collective punishment for a crime or crimes that neither remitters nor beneficiaries were found guilty of in a court of law. The ‘benefit of the doubt’ considered by judges in all verdicts reached should rule in favor of beneficiaries. The bank has proven no single case on ‘irregularities’ against Somali remittances, either.
The bank, working closely with regulators, has every chance to keep Dahabshiil accounts open in order not to deprive the millions of Somalis depending on the flow of remittances for basic needs such as daily subsistence, education, health and so on, and to, also, not encourage people to turn their backs on the law and go underground to send monies back home to family dependents.
Ibrahim J Abdi
A freelance writer