Protesters Plead for Assistance as Loved Ones Continue to Face Uncertainity
More than 100 members of the Somali community in Minnesota gathered at a Wells Fargo Bank branch in midtown Minneapolis on January 13, drawing attention to an increasingly dire situation facing their loved ones.
Following a brief rally in front of the branch, a number of Somali Americans in attendance entered the branch and closed their bank accounts.
Organized by Somali community activists with support from SEIU Local 26 and Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, the action drew news coverage from CBS Minnesota (WCCO), the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and the Washington Post via the Associated Press.
Since late December, Somali Americans living in Minnesota have been unable to send financial support — a much-needed lifeline — to their loved ones living in East Africa. At that time, a small community bank stopped working with Hawalas, the community-based financial institutions that are the only practical method to transfer funds to famine-stricken Somalia.
Wells Fargo is one of the largest banks serving the Somali community in Minnesota and was one of the first banks to stop working with Hawalas in the mid-2000s. Faced with an opportunity to take on a leadership role and provide assistance, Wells Fargo has thus far not been willing to work with the community and their unique financial needs.
As a result, hundreds of Somali Americans gathered on January 13 in front of the Wells Fargo branch to once again ask for a meeting to discuss the situation. Not being granted a meeting at that time, many in the crowd chose to close their accounts until the situation is finally resolved and Wells Fargo assists the community in their time of need.
Sadik Warfa of Minneapolis is a Somali community activist. “This is a crisis affecting our families and we need a resolution as soon as possible,” Warfa said. “Wells Fargo has the opportunity to take a leadership role in solving a humanitarian crisis and we have come here today to ask them to do just that. For nearly a month now, a lifeline for millions of people has been temporarily severed, placing those lives in jeopardy. We cannot wait any longer, this must be resolved today in order to save lives.”
Ismael Farah of Minneapolis has a sick mother in Somalia. He sends about $200 a month to her to pay for medical expenses. As of today, he has been unable to send anything to continue her care and she has been unable to purchase the medications she needs. “My family members keep calling me,” Farah said. “I don’t know what to do, I feel so helpless. There has to be a way to solve these problems. We need Wells Fargo and other banks to help us. Without their help our families will continue to suffer.”
Shukri Hassan of Minneapolis works hard in order to support her family, both here in Minnesota and in Somalia. “Without the assistance I provide, my family in Somalia is unable to makes ends meet,” Ali said. “Today I join with my Somali brothers and sisters in asking Wells Fargo to work with us and do the right thing to stop the suffering.”
Abdirahman Muse is a community activist who signed a letter on behalf of the Somali community which was sent to Wells Fargo executives earlier this week. Muse sends money back to his family in Somalia as well. “Many members of our community, who work hard to support families here and in their home country, have been loyal Wells Fargo customers for years,” Muse wrote in the letter. “Many were not even aware that you had closed the accounts that allowed money to reach their relatives because another bank provided the service. Now that this (much smaller) bank is no longer available, a humanitarian crisis has resulted.”
The text of Muse’s letter is included below.
January 11, 2012
Chief Executive Officer
Wells Fargo Minnesota
90 South Seventh Street
Minneapolis, MN 55402
Sent via Facsimile
Dear Mr. Kvamme –
For the past several weeks, members of the Minnesota Somali community have attempted to find solutions to an ongoing crisis facing our families. As you may be aware, we currently are unable to transfer funds to our loved ones in Somalia, greatly jeopardizing their health and safety.
In late December the remaining financial institution willing to work with us in wiring funds to Somali through Hawalas, the community-based financial institutions that are the only practical methods to transfer funds to Eastern Africa stopped performing the transactions. The decision by Sunrise Community Banks and their subsidiary, Franklin Bank, was devastating to us. It is our strong desire to engage in a dialogue with you, utilizing your significant resources in the Minnesota banking community to find a way in which to send funds to our loved ones.
Many members of our community, who work hard to support families here and in their home country, have been loyal Wells Fargo customers for years and were not even aware that you had closed the accounts that allowed money to reach their relatives because another bank provided the service. Now that this (much smaller) bank is no longer available a humanitarian crisis has resulted.
Last Thursday, a number of us visited your branch at 2600 East Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis to close our bank accounts. In doing so, our hope was that leadership within Wells Fargo would realize the urgent and serious nature of this situation. We were pleased that Wells Fargo representatives suggested a possible meeting with us to discuss finding a solution to this crisis.
Please contact me at your earliest convenience to schedule a meeting with representatives of our community. As each day passes, more and more lives are placed at risk.
My full contact information can be found below. Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.
[contact information redacted for publication of letter]
Cc: Jon Campbell, Head of Social Responsibility, Wells Fargo Minnesota
John Stumpf, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Wells Fargo N.A.