Mayor Ed Murray met with Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday during the Secretary’s visit to Seattle. As promised, the mayor took the opportunity to discuss the Somali remittance crisis that has been preventing the local Somali community from sending much needed funds to their families in Somalia for the last three months.
I spoke with the mayor today about his meeting with Secretary Kerry and his efforts to help find a solution to the remittance issue.
Mayor Murray said that his goal in meeting with the Secretary of State was to show him how the issue was affecting local Somali-Americans. He stressed the message that these restrictions were sending to the local community, contrasting the current restrictions on East African families with the long history of Seattleites sending money back to their home countries. “My grandparents were able to do it and my husband’s parents were able to send money to Japan," Murray told me. "It felt like we were telling them they can't do what other communities can do.”
When I asked about Secretary Kerry’s response to Murray’s concerns, the mayor said that Kerry seemed “very receptive," and while very concerned with possible impacts that the lack of stability in the Somali financial system could have on ensuring that funds sent to Somalia get to the families that they are intended for (even though my research could not find any evidence of past Hawala funds going to any nefarious purposes), he believes that “there must be a way to make this happen.”
Secretary Kerry told the mayor that he would give this issue a second look and promised to follow up with the mayor’s office.
The timing of John Kerry’s visit is fortunate as the the mayor’s office and the Seattle City Council passed a resolution on the Somali Remittance Crisis on May 8. The Mayor stressed that achieving the goals laid out in the resolution requires the support of the Secretary of State and the central government of Somalia. The mayor has also been working closely with Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges (home to the largest Somali community in America) to find a joint solution to the crisis.
During the city council meeting to discuss the resolution on the Somali remittance crisis, Hamdi Abdulle, Executive Director of the Somali Youth and Family Club, expressed concern that it appeared that the city had ignored the previous requests from the Somali community to address this issue and had only begun to pay attention once non-Somali organizations began publicizing it. This was underscored when the issue was introduced at the meeting by Councilmember Harrell, with Harrell stating that it was the coverage of the issue at The Stranger that brought the Somali remittance crisis to his attention.
I asked the mayor about Abdulle’s concerns and he was quick to stress that his office was acting on this issue because of the requests from the local Somali and East African community. The slow nature of government can often make it seem like less attention is being paid to an issue than actually is. Mayor Murray said that the issue of Somali remittances had been brought to his attention by members of his staff who are a part of the East African Community. “This is not an issue that they have been quiet about," he said.