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Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 17:52 GMT
Somalis stranded in Ethiopia
Somali refugees
Thousands of Somalis now live in Ethiopia
By Nita Bhalla in Addis Ababa

Ethiopian authorities have defended their closure of all Somali remittance banks in Addis Ababa.


The Ethiopians and the Americans are not targeting terrorists, they are targeting innocent people

Nadia, Somali refugee
Police said that following the closure of one the them, Al-Barakaat, last week, they had to investigate all agencies that may be sponsoring terrorism and transferring money to Osama Bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network.

But the thousands of Somali refugees who have been living in Ethiopia for almost a decade say they depend on these banks for receiving money from relatives abroad.

Most claim that this is their only means of survival.

'Terrorist sponsors'

Ethiopian police say that the closure of all six Somali remittance banks in Addis Ababa was an attempt to "root out agencies that were sponsoring terrorist networks".

A police officer, who wished to remain anonymous, said that there were many "so-called remittance banks which were involved in under-hand dealings" and that the Ethiopian government "was going to leave no stone unturned" in fighting the threat of terrorism.

Closed door of al-Barakaat
Al-Barakaat was closed last week and its owner arrested

A truckload of Ethiopian police and army officers on Monday raided and closed all Somali money transfer offices in Addis Ababa.

There were angry scenes in the Rwanda Embassy area, where most Somali refugees live.

There were more than 100 Somalis outside the money transfer offices as the police closed the buildings.

Pleading

People were crying and shouting, pleading with the police to stop.

31-year-old Abdul Farah has been a refugee in Ethiopia for six years. "The money that we get from our families abroad through these remittance banks are our only means of survival in Ethiopia. What will we do now?" he asked.

The offices that have been shut down include Kaha, El-Emal and Dahabshil and Tawfiq.

Somali refugee
The Rwanda Embassy areas is now known as Mogadishu

The controversial remittance bank Al-Barakaat had its offices in Addis Ababa shut down last week and its owner, Adu Fetah, has been arrested.

Authorities say that the banks will be investigated and if there is no terrorist connection, they may be reopened.

But the investigations could take months. 24-year-old Nadia receives money through these banks from her sister in London.

Diaspora

She said: "How long are we supposed to wait? How can we survive if there is no money? The Ethiopians and the Americans are not targeting terrorists, they are targeting innocent people."

There are tens of thousands of Somali refugees living in Ethiopia, many live in camps and are cared for by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.

But those in Addis Ababa have no aid available to them and few have employment.

Since 1991, most have survived through the money sent to them by their relatives in the diaspora.

See also:

12 Nov 01 | Africa
New PM in Somalia
08 Nov 01 | Africa
Somali company 'not terrorist'
05 Nov 01 | Africa
Moi reopens Somali border
26 Sep 01 | Africa
US targets Somali group
24 Sep 01 | Africa
UN pulls out of Somalia
21 Sep 01 | Africa
Somalia rejects Bin Laden link
17 Oct 01 | Africa
Starvation threat in Somalia
05 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Somalia
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