Heart-wrenching images of Syrian refugee trigger $100k fundraiser

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An online campaign launched by a Norway-based activist has raised over $100,000 and counting for a Palestinian-Syrian refugee, after moving pictures of him selling blue-capped pens on the streets of Beirut with his daughter’s head on his shoulder appeared online.

Founder of Conflict News, Gissur Simonarson, posted pictures of the Syrian and his daughter on social media on Tuesday. The move triggered an outpour of support for the refugees’ plight. Simonarson, who is originally from Iceland, was overwhelmed by requests to help Abdul Halim Attar, a single father of two from the Yarmouk refugee camp located on the southern outskirts of Damascus.

The picture shows Attar selling pens in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, as his 4-year-old daughter Reem sleeps in his arms with her head resting on his shoulder. 

Simonarson got in touch with local activists, located the man in the picture, and launched the campaign along with a Twitter account, #BuyPens.   

“Within 30 minutes, I was pointed to a person that lived right by where he usually hung out selling pens,” Simonarson told the Star.

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The goal was to reach $5,000. This sum was soon surpassed, surging to over $67,000 within 24 hours, and now standing at $97,065.  

Attar’s two children are nine and four and they live in “dire conditions” in Beirut, said local activist Carol Malouf, who visited Attar’s home on Friday.

Attar wants to use the money to educate his children and help other Syrians. “He is just overwhelmed. He broke down crying, he was so touched by what is happening,” Simonarson said, describing Attar’s reaction to the donations. “He said, ‘I don’t want any money, I want to educate my children and I want to help other Syrian refugees.’”

The process of how to transfer the money to the family is still being worked out. 

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“It’s nice to see people come together and make a difference in another person’s life,” Simonarson said.

“When you see stories today on the news about refugees they’re basically all negative. We see them drowning in the Mediterranean. We see them being mistreated in the countries that they have come to… It’s quite overwhelming positive support for this campaign.”

There were over 1.1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon as of August 25, with seventy percent of them living below the poverty line.

The successful campaign comes amid devastating news of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan dying in large numbers as they try to make their way to Europe. 

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Earlier this week, the bodies of 71 refugees were found dead, after they likely suffocated in a tractor trailer in eastern Austria, the country’s police reported. Another 200 are feared dead after a boat filled with migrants capsized off the Libyan coast on Friday.