Syrian refugee helped by viral #BuyPens campaign wants to use donations to help others

'I don't want to be the only one being helped - there are people worse off than me,' Abdul Halim Attar said

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The Independent Online

A Syrian refugee in line to receive more than £100,000 after a photo of him selling pens in Lebanon went viral has said he wants to use his sudden change of fortunes to help thousands of others in desperate need.

Abdul Halim Attar was not even aware he had been photographed by a passer-by until a member of the public told him the image was spreading around the world last week.

The 35-year-old told Sky News Arabia: “I feel like I am in a dream. I still cannot believe what has happened to me, that the whole world stood by me.

“I don’t know how to thank them.”

Abdul, a Palestinian-Syrian, who was forced to flee his home in Yarmouk by the country’s civil war, had been living in Beirut for three years with his two children.

Living on a United Nations allowance of just $38 (£25) a month for the whole family, he resorted to selling biros on the city streets so he could afford food and a roof over their heads.

The image that captured attention across the world showed what he said was a normal day – walking for hours clutching a bunch of pens as his three-year-old daughter slept on his shoulder.

Abdul's former home of Yarmouk has since been bombed by Syrian forces and overrun by Islamist groups including Isis


“I want to thank the Lebanese people who brought my pens,” Abdul told Sky News Arabia.

“Had it not been for them, I would have been doomed a long time ago.”

The photo was posted on Twitter by Gissur Simonarson, an activist and the founder of Conflict News, who then set up a fundraising page to help Abdul and his children start a better life.


By Wednesday afternoon it had raised $175,777 (£115,000), with donations from almost 7,000 people in at least 116 countries over just six days.

The campaign will run for another nine days and the funds can take up to two weeks to be processed by the Indigogo website, meaning Abdul has not yet received any of the money.

Mr Simonarson said the donations will reach him as soon as possible and that in the meantime, his rent has been paid and fundraiser Carol Malouf is in Beirut helping the family with residency documents.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Abdul said his priority is to secure an education for his daughter, Reem, and nine-year-old son Aboudi.

But he also wants to help the hundreds of thousands of other Syrian refugees forced to flee their homes by the country’s brutal civil war and the rise of Isis.

Abdul said: “I want to use the money to help Syrians. I don't want to be the only one being helped - there are thousands of children on the streets.

“There are people who are worse off than I am … I hope this campaign grows to help all Syrians.”