Unauthorized money transfer agencies continue to operate in Homs countryside despite risks
Homs – Urawa al-Mundhir
The need for foreign money transfers in the northern countryside of Homs during the control of the opposition factions forced the establishment of special money exchange and transfer agencies, working in cooperation with intermediaries in regime-controlled areas and outside Syria.
These companies have helped civilians to receive money from their relatives abroad. The agencies have also become a means of transferring the salaries of civil society workers and the funds allocated to support part of their activities.
After the regime forces took control of the region under the “reconciliation” agreement concluded two years ago, the owners of these agencies became subject to security controls in order to determine the value of the money transfers, their sources and recipients. Subsequently many of these owners officially closed their businesses.
However, and despite the tight security measures imposed by the regime, unauthorized money transfer agencies are still operating in secret, away from the prying eyes of the security services.
Money transfer agency are considered a high security risk by the regime, as they constitute one of the methods of funding oppositional action. This has led to these agencies facing charges of financing “sleeper cells.”
The charge is a serious risk to workers in these agencies. “The risk of their work is no less than any work done by a sleeper cell,” according to one of the workers in a money transfer agency operating in the region. “Through unauthorized agencies, any amount from any country in the world can reach anyone without the knowledge of the security services about any of the information related to the sender, receiver or even the intermediary,” added the worker, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, in an interview with Enab Baladi.
Money transfer operations are not always safe, as heightened security sometimes leads to a complete shutdown for varying periods until things return to normal, according to the same worker. The source pointed out that remittances are usually “limited amounts of money sent by people from outside Syria to their families to help them manage their affairs.”
Manipulation and fraud
Despite the low risk of money transfer through unauthorized transfer agencies, and the prompt receipt of the money, the transfer fees through these agencies remain expensive, exceeding 6 per cent of the value of transfer.
Additionally, the fluctuation of the exchange rate of the Syrian Pound (SYP) against the US dollar (USD) contributes to increased fees that can reach 10 per cent of transfer. Owners of the money transfer agencies categorically refuse to deliver money transfers in foreign currency.
Abu Khaled, a resident of Talbiseh in the northern countryside of Homs, receives periodic remittances from his refugee son in Germany through one of the money transfer agencies. “I often endure losses of more than 10,000 SYP (15.5 USD) because of differences in the exchange rate of the currency, even though my son pays the transfer fees in advance,” said Abu Khaled, who spoke to Enab Baladi on condition of anonymity.
Agents intentionally holds the transfer for two days or more, as confirmed by Abu Khaled, and once the value of the SYP declines, the agency becomes ready to deliver at the current exchange rate, which compels Abu Khaled to lose the different without being able to object.
However, unauthorized money transfer agencies are still favored by parents who wish to receive remittances, according to Samir, a regular client.
“Despite the losses I endure from these agencies, they remain a better alternative than dealing with authorized agencies, which periodically provide security branches with information on the schedules of remittances. This might expose us to accountability and detention,” said Samir, speaking to Enab Baladi on condition of anonymity.
One of the advantages of these unauthorized agents, according to Samir, is that the authorized ones receive remittances at the dollar exchange rate of the Central Bank (438 SYP per USD), which is about 150 SYP less than market price. This means a significant loss for receivers of high-value remittances.
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