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Local Somali money transfer shops still in business

MOORHEAD - When Minnesota's Somali-run money transfer businesses stopped taking orders a few weeks ago, Fowzia Adde feared her lifeline to her grandmother would be cut off.

MOORHEAD - When Minnesota's Somali-run money transfer businesses stopped taking orders a few weeks ago, Fowzia Adde feared her lifeline to her grandmother would be cut off.

"I was thinking: What am I going to do?" said Adde, who sends money to Somalia for care every month. "You leave a lot of people behind. All the time when I eat, I say, 'God, please, let them eat, too.' "

Adde, who came here as a refugee 14 years ago, worried transfer shops here would shut down as well, forcing her to send the money via Kenya or another circuitous route that would put far less money in her 90-year-old relative's pocket.

That hasn't happened. The local money transfer brokers that serve Somalis here are still operating - and are even taking business from Twin Cities-area Somalis thwarted by the shutdown there.

Those brokers play a key role in the lives of expatriated Somalis, who have spread throughout the world from a homeland wracked by war, disease, famine and other humanitarian crises.

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By some estimates, about one in nine people born in Somalia live abroad. Minnesota is home to about 25,000 - the largest population in the United States. About 2,000 live in Fargo-Moorhead.

To send money back to Somalia, she and other Somalis use hawalas - local brokerages connected to international financial networks. Money moves from the brokers to a local bank, then to a bank abroad - often in Dubai - and eventually to Somalia.

Somalis here usually send a few hundred dollars at a time, enough for food, rent, medical care and other necessities for perhaps a month.

The hawalas fill a void left by larger money transfer companies like Western Union and Money Gram, which do not operate in Somalia because the country does not have a functional banking system.

The hawala system relies heavily on trust and personal relationships - and is not always readily accessible to those outside the community. The Forum attempted to contact three local brokers for this story. Two were listed at phone numbers that are no longer functional, and a third declined to comment through a friend.

Hawalas in Minnesota suspended their services in late December after the bank they use to facilitate transactions, Sunrise Community Banks, announced it would stop servicing their accounts.

Bank officials say they're worried about running afoul of federal rules against funding terrorism. In October, two Somali women were convicted in Rochester, Minn., of funneling money through a hawala to a Somali militant group classified as a terrorist organization.

Minnesota Somalis have held protests against the Sunrise move, which comes as Somalia is grappling with drought and famine. The bank says it is working on a solution.

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Sakawdin Mohamed, a North Dakota State University graduate who now heads the Eagan, Minn.-based Somali Institute for Peace Research, said the hawala closures have rocked the Somali community.

"This complicates a lot," he said. "The people in Somalia depend on the diaspora."

Mohamed, who came to Fargo in 1997, still sends money to Somalia to support his uncle.

He was able to send $100 last weekend from a hawala in Fargo because the bank the shop uses is still accepting transfers.

"What can you do when you have an uncle who lives in a really unstable place?" he said. "If it's not a bullet, it is a lack of food."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502

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