LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Somali-born double Olympic champion Mo Farah has backed petitioners calling for Barclays to keep open its cash transfer business, a lifeline for millions of Somalis and others in developing countries who depend on remittances to survive.
London-based Barclays announced in June it would stop offering banking services to some Somali transfer firms because it feared funds might end up in the hands of "terrorists" in the Horn of Africa nation slowly emerging from two decades of conflict.
The move has alarmed Somalis at home and abroad. Many of Somalia’s 10 million people rely on the $1.2 billion or so in remittances sent them every year by relatives around the world.
Farah, 30, who left Somalia as a boy of eight, said a petition delivered to 10 Downing Street on Wednesday sought Prime Minister David Cameron's help in finding a solution to the problem.
"It is so important that the government and the banks realise the incredibly serious threat this poses, and work with the remittance industry to find a solution," Farah said in a statement. "Millions of Somalis as well as people across the developing world depend on it."
In Mogadishu, where commercial banking disappeared in the early 1990s after the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, firms such as Dahabshiil fill the gap, offering money transfer services used by Somalis and international agencies.
Farah said his Mo Farah Foundation and other international aid organisations which rely on companies like Dahabshiil would no longer be able to get money to the people who need it.
Dahabshiil is one of Somalia's best known firms with agents in Britain and offices in Dubai and several African countries.
In a letter to Cameron, Farah and shadow international development minister Rushanara Ali said the decision to close these accounts could "exacerbate instability in countries like Somalia, as remittance giving will be driven towards dangerous, unregulated alternative routes".
They said they were "encouraged" to hear that Barclays had granted extensions to some money transfer agencies until September, and asked the banking and financial services firm to give all companies an extension of six to 12 months.