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Somali-Americans are fighting back against what they perceive as punitive U.S. banking regulations with a Twitter hashtag, #IFundFoodNotTerror.
Many Somalis who emigrate to the United States rely on money sent home from relatives overseas. But the Seattle Times reports that many of these transfers are gradually being cut off by anti-terrorism regulations.
The U.S. government is concerned that some of these international transfers, known as remittances, could end up funding terrorist groups. But for the most part, that money is sent in small amounts to pay for basic supplies like food and clothing, says a representative for the charitable organization Oxfam.
“It really is the largest and most important financial flow going into Somalia, and most of it goes to families” Jonathan Scanlon of Oxfam America told the Seattle Times. “Money going home to help keep kids in school. … Money going home to help out the family business, money going home to just keep food on the table. It really is a lifeline for the country.”
Until recently, the Merchants Bank of California dealt with around 80 percent of transfers from the US to Somalia, as other banks have long since stopped providing transfer services to Somalia. In total, Somali emigrants sent back far more money than the country receives in foreign aid.
Now, the Merchants Bank of California has been pressured to shut down one of the few remaining pathways for remittances, and Somali ex-pats are panicking about their relatives back home. Online, they are making their voices heard on the #IFundFoodNotTerror hashtag, arguing that the harsh new regulations will have a devastating impact on innocent civilians.
Some Twitter users are also pointing out that Somalis’ financial hardship might result in more ill will toward the U.S., causing people to turn to the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab.
According to the Somali government, the U.S. government’s new restrictions on money transfers could lead to the emergence of a new black market for such transactions, which would actually make it easier for money to be sent to organizations like Al-Shabaab.
In the past, there have been several cases where American citizens have sent money to Somali militant groups. In 2013, for example, two Minnesotan women were sentenced to 10 and 20 years in jail for funneling money to Al-Shabaab. However, it’s clear that many Somali-Americans see these regulations as a punishment for a crime that they did not commit.
Speaking to the Seattle Times, the chairman of the Washington state Refugee Advisory Council described the situation as being “just like seeing a famine coming and not being able to do anything. A lot of people are going to die.”
Photo via Terry C. Mitchell/Wikimedia (U.S. Navy, Public Domain)
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor