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A Shopkeeper and a Lifeline


A Shopkeeper and a Lifeline

Many Syrian refugees in Lebanon are deep in debt. Meet a shop owner who goes out of his way to help with the essentials.
7 April 2016
Lebanese shopkeeper Abou Yacoub has extended credit to many Syrian refugees.

The night his wife gave birth to their first child, Mahmoud’s excitement at becoming a father was mixed with anxiety. As a Syrian refugee in Lebanon, he worried about how he would pay the hospital bill.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, covered 75 per cent of the cost, but Mahmoud had no money to pay the remaining US$170. Luckily, he knew one person in the area who could help him, a Lebanese shopkeeper called Abu Yacoub.

Mahmoud’s money had run out soon after he fled to Lebanon three years ago. He has been living in debt for two years, and he is not alone. A UN study in 2015 found that many Syrian refugees in Lebanon are sinking deeper into debt as time goes on. With few work opportunities, too little aid and rising living expenses, many Syrian refugees struggle to get by on a daily basis.

Abu Yacoub has become a lifeline to many of the Syrians living in tented settlements near him in the Bekaa Valley. They mostly buy rice, flour, bread and sugar from his shop. Very few can afford to pay, yet he still gives them what they need on credit, regardless of whether they can pay him back soon or not.