By Maria Caspani
NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Aid agencies urge Kenya to allow Somali money transfer firms to resume operations, expressing concern that halting remittances will hurt struggling families and relief operations in Somalia.
On Wednesday, Kenya suspended the licenses of 13 Somali money transfer agencies in Nairobi in an effort to curb the financing of insurgents. This followed the recent massacre of 148 students at Kenya's Garissa University College by al Shabaab militants.
"Somali families are losing their only formal, transparent and regulated channel through which to send and receive money," said a statement issued by a group of relief agencies including Oxfam, CARE, Mercy Corps, Adeso and World Vision Somalia.
"Aid agencies working in Somalia also risk losing their only means of transferring money to sustain their daily humanitarian and development operations," it said.
Each year Somalis abroad use money transfer operators to send home an estimated $1.3 billion, more than all humanitarian and development aid to the country combined, according to a 2013 report by aid groups Oxfam, Adeso and the Inter-American Dialogue.
The money provides a lifeline to millions of people in a country rebuilding itself despite an insurgency by Islamist militants as well as widespread hunger and recurring drought.
It is not only Somalis in Somalia who are at risk of losing a vital lifeline, but also Kenya's Somali community, which numbers just over one million.
"It's going to hurt Somalis in Kenya more than Somalis in Somalia. The amount of money sent from abroad to Kenya is huge," Somalia's central bank governor Bashir Issa Ali said on Wednesday.
Aid groups said that many of the remittance companies whose licenses were suspended in Kenya were delivering legitimate funds, and urged Kenyan authorities to vet them on an individual basis.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Lisa Anderson)