Our journalism needs your support! Become a member
The Bristol Cable

A lifeline: Stapleton Road to Somalia

Stapleton Road, Easton: another corner shop selling snacks, drinks and fags. But this one, like hundreds across the UK, doubles up as an international banking terminal.

Bristol and Beyond

Stapleton Road, Easton: another corner shop selling snacks, drinks and fags. But this one, like hundreds across the UK, doubles up as an international banking terminal.

Stapleton Road, Easton: another corner shop selling snacks, drinks and fags. But this one, like hundreds across the UK, doubles up as an international banking terminal.

Money service businesses (MSB) like Dahabshiil set up in these shops; serving expat communities who send money to family abroad. But the ‘foreign remittance’ sector has experienced turmoil recently. Banks have ramped up restrictions due to fears of money laundering and terrorist funding.

Forty per cent of Somalis rely on money sent from family abroad – an estimated £114m annually, in the UK’s case. Bristol council estimates 10,000 people of Somali heritage live here. Many use MSBs, and worry whether they’ll be able to support loved ones this way in future.

In 2013, Barclays, the last major UK bank to provide remittance services to Somalia, closed about 250 money transfer businesses’ accounts. This angered the UK Somali community, and NGOs working in the Horn of Africa who also depend on MSBs. Dahabshiil, one of Africa’s largest money traders, battled the decision in the high courts and won a reprieve.

At Chez Saynab cafe on Stapleton Road, local community worker Said Burale tells the Cable “the only way we can send money to family is through Hawala (small money-transfer businesses)”. Abdi Mohammed, of the Somali Media Group, joins in to explain just why foreign remittance channels are so important. “It’s not like the individualistic Western society. We look after each other… sending money to unemployed loved ones is very important.”

But Hawala, a system that’s morphed out of Islamic banking principles, has its downsides. “When sending money, you don’t have 100% guarantee [it] will go through,” says Burale. One risk is that the lack of identification documents in Somalia means it can be hard to verify recipients’ identities.

Forensic accountant and fraud specialist Mark Jenner, who has dealt with cases involving Hawala, says criminals are hijacking systems used by migrant workers to send money to their families. “The system is so complex and circular that sometimes you have difficulty tracing where the money is going,” he says, adding that regulators, namely the Financial Conduct Authority, have “a huge problem on their hands”.

Last year one US bank closed all its Somali-American money transfer companies’ accounts. In the current political climate, Hawala banking is likely to come under increasing scrutiny by Western governments. But for Bristol’s Somali expats, the priority is supporting families abroad.

The UK government has established an Action Group on Cross Border Remittances, with the stated aim of “strengthening the UK-Somalia remittance corridor”. But ultimately, says Said Burale, “If there will be a change it must come from the community. The government must ask the community what is the best solution.”


Post a comment

Mark if this comment is from the author of the article

By posting a comment you agree to our Comment Policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related content

Urban growers are quietly laying the ground for a food revolution. Can it become a reality?

Growing fruit and veg close to home is better for our health – and could help keep us fed when climate change disrupts supply chains. Could doing more of it provide a secure, affordable, and sustainable way of meeting Bristol's needs?

Listen: Bristol Unpacked with Babbasa CEO Poku Osei on changing the system from the inside

In the wake of the recent murder of St Pauls teenager Eddie King Muthemba Kinuthia, Neil talks to Poku Osei from Babbasa who aim to empower young people from local income and ethnic minority households.

Turbo Island got tarmacked, was there a better alternative?

An outpouring of posts eulogising the wonders of Turbo Island poured forth on social media, bemoaning the loss of a “cultural icon”. But what does it mean for Stokes Croft?

Listen: Skate or Cry by Jazlyn Pinckney

In this audio documentary, five women taking space in Bristol’s skateboarding scene speak to Jazlyn Pinckney. Some have just picked up a board for the first time, others have been skating for decades.

Campaigners face uphill battle to save two BS5 pubs from redevelopment

From the Redfield residents trying to preserve a historic cinema to the Barton Hill activists just wanting to keep their last local, there are common frustrations for communities trying to hang on to the places that matter to them.

Could Filwood Broadway finally get the cash boost it needs?

The south Bristol high street might be getting a much-needed makeover. But locals say they should be consulted again because the plans are out of date.

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday

Join our newsletter

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter

Get our latest stories & essential Bristol news
sent to your inbox every Saturday morning