Bethnal Green and Bow MP and Chair of the Save Remittance Giving Campaign, Rushanara Ali, has today called on the UK government and Barclays Bank to take urgent action to address the immediate threat that now faces a lifeline worth billions to the developing world, as Barclays intends to close down the remittance accounts it holds with money transfer operators in a matter of days.
Barclays Bank initially suspended the accounts it held with money transfer companies in July, giving temporary reprieve to some operators following pressure from the Save Remittance Giving Campaign, MPs, NG0s, the international community and money transfer companies, however many have already had their accounts closed. The campaign now has over 122,000 supporters, including double Olympic champion Mo Farah.
The final deadline imposed by Barclays Bank on these operators was due on 30th September, however the Somali operator Dahabshiil – which is based in Rushanara’s constituency - and two others issued high court applications seeking an injunction against the bank’s decision to close their accounts, which is now expected to be heard on 15th October. In light of this development, members of the Save Remittance Giving Campaign and international NGO Oxfam have teamed up to highlight the importance to Barclays Bank of extending the deadline for these accounts and for the UK government to intervene.
Rushanara Ali MP said: “We are now facing a crucial moment in the campaign, with money service operators now resorting to legal action. The UK government, Barclays Bank, regulatory and financial authorities have regrettably failed to find a solution that provides legitimate and affordable ways of getting remittances into developing countries.
“This is an issue that I fear will cost dearly to many who have recovered from decades of hardship across the developing world, especially in war-torn Somalia, a country that has no formal banking system and has witnessed the positive and vital impact remittances has played to improve the living standards for millions of its citizens. Somalia receives $1.3 billion in remittances from family and friends living abroad with UK Somalis sending over £160 million - it is then essential that this lifeline is not cut off.
“Although some development has been made to find a solution with the government recently holding a roundtable hosted by DfID and HM Treasury - there is a key role that the government must continue play to ensure that these discussions are not forgotten. The Treasury needs to work with the regulators to keep the remittance corridor open as well as a vital role to play to clampdown on any concerns over security and money-laundering but this cannot come at a cost to the millions who are heavily reliant on remittances. Barclays must therefore allow these discussions to take place and must extend the deadline for a reasonable period until an alternative is sought.”
Oxfam’s Campaigns and Policy Director, Ben Phillips, has said: “The closures mean hundreds of thousands of men, women and children living in poverty in Somalia won’t receive the money they need to live. The Government is now doing its part but needs to keep its focus on the issue and press the banks to work in tandem for the people of Somalia”.
Following a roundtable discussion held between NGOs and the Government on 30 September 2013, HM Treasury released a statement on 10 October 2013 which can be found here.
Campaigners will cycle Barclays-sponsored “Boris Bikes” to a central London Barclays branch. The event, organised by Oxfam and Somali campaigners, will see sacks of fake cash being delivered to a central London branch of Barclays. The event symbolises how Somalis in the UK will no longer have a legitimate way to send life-saving funds to family and friends in Somalia if the bank decides to finally close its operations.
Follow the campaign Twitter page @SRGCampaign and tweet about the campaign or post on Facebook using #SaveRemittanceGiving;
In July 2013, Rushanara and 46 Labour MPs wrote a joint letter to the Group Chief Executive of Barclays, Mr Antony Jenkins, requesting that Barclays Bank and the UK Government address this issue urgently and provide the necessary assistance to prevent the closure of money transfer agencies. The letter called on Barclays to consider delaying the withdrawal of the accounts for an extended period of at least 6 months so that the Government and regulatory authorities can work with the Banking sector in an effort to save the money transfer agencies.
Rushanara wrote an article in The Guardian in which she describes the positive impact the remittance economy has had on the lives of the poorest in developing countries.
Rushanara secured a Westminster Hall debate on 17 July 2013 on the provision of money-transfer accounts services by banks to ethnic minority communities in which called on Barclays to delay its decision to withdraw these accounts by six months.