Debt during Ramadan and Eid: A social burden for borrowers in Syria

Damascus, al-Qanawat neighborhood shops and stalls selling clothes - February 3, 2024 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)

Damascus, al-Qanawat neighborhood shops and stalls selling clothes - February 3, 2024 (Enab Baladi/Sarah al-Ahmad)


Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim

Hossam laments the accumulation of debts caused by Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr obligations, and is looking for another source of income in addition to his job as a taxi driver in Idlib to cover them.

Hossam Hajj Muhammad (36 years old) told Enab Baladi that he borrowed money to cover the costs of iftar and suhoor during Ramadan, as well as to buy Eid clothes for his children and some sweets, in addition to giving out “Eidiyah” (Eid gifts) and taking the children out during the festive period.

In order to pay off half of his debts, Hossam borrowed 150 US dollars from a friend, noting that he won’t be able to repay unless he secures another income source, as his earnings from the taxi reach only 175 dollars per month. He spends 50 dollars on rent, while the remaining 125 dollars barely cover the minimum family necessities.

This past Ramadan, which started on March 10, and the subsequent Eid al-Fitr have placed a financial strain on a wide segment of Syrians, who strive to fulfill their families’ obligations and bring joy to their children during Eid, leading them to borrow money or goods from shops, amid a Syrian reality burdened with poverty and need, and a surge in most prices during the Ramadan and Eid season.

Minimum wage levels across different control areas in Syria compel people to seek additional sources of income, either by finding a second job or relying on remittances from abroad, an option not available to everyone.

The selling rate for the US dollar against the Syrian pound is 14,900 pounds and the buying rate is 14,750 pounds, according to the S-P Today website.

The value of the Turkish lira, which is relied upon in the northwestern regions of Syria for market transactions, has also been affected, impacting the living standards of the citizens with the exchange rate of the dollar reaching 32.5 liras per dollar, and the euro exchange rate reaching 34.6 Turkish liras.

The minimum government salaries in areas controlled by the Syrian regime are 279,000 Syrian pounds (about 18.7 dollars), while in areas controlled by the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) in Idlib, salaries range between 80 and 110 dollars.

Minimum salaries in the northeastern regions of Syria under the Autonomous Administration’s control stand at one million Syrian pounds (67 dollars), and government salaries in areas controlled by the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) in northern and eastern Aleppo countryside including Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain, range from 35 to 59 US dollars.

Debts awaiting repayment

Mahmoud al-Sharif said he did not intend to buy Eid clothes for his children, but the rising temperatures and the children’s need for summer clothes forced him to do so, spending 50 US dollars per child. Along with household needs and bills, he had to borrow 100 dollars, as his monthly salary of 150 dollars from his job at a restaurant in Idlib was not sufficient.

Yusuf al-Hussein, living in Golan camp in Daraa city, saw his debts increase during Ramadan, due to soaring prices and his low income of 280,000 Syrian pounds from his job at the water directorate.

Al-Hussein told Enab Baladi that aid to families living in the camp was very limited, and the abundance of necessities during Ramadan and Eid prompted him to borrow 500,000 Syrian pounds from a friend to buy some food items, and another 600,000 pounds from another friend to buy Eid clothes and make “Maamoul” (a type of filled pastry).

Al-Hussein is still puzzled about how to repay his debts, as his salary barely covers the needs of his family of five.

“Jam’iyya” among colleagues

Ghaida (34 years old), a public sector employee from Tishreen suburb in Latakia, bought more than half of the Eid sweets ingredients on credit from the nearby grocer, to make sweets for her family of four.

She explained that she bought items such as a kilogram of flour, two kilograms of fine semolina, a two-kilogram tin of ghee, and three kilograms of sugar. As for walnuts, she usually stocks them annually from her family, which owns several walnut trees in the countryside. She had to buy half a kilogram of date paste without borrowing, as this type was not available on credit at the shop.

Her purchases exceeded 150,000 Syrian pounds as she also stocked up on household supplies, grains, and cleaning materials. Ghaida said she would repay the debt at the beginning of May, which is her turn in the “Jam’iyya”, a financial arrangement among work colleagues.

A “Jam’iyya” is a financial cooperative among colleagues, where a fixed monthly amount is determined for each person to contribute, which is then given to one of them each month until everyone has had their turn.

The value of Ghaida’s “Jam’iyya” reached 500,000 pounds, involving ten participants each contributing 50,000 pounds monthly.

Impact on individual health

Debts and their accumulation have negative impacts on both mental and physical health, as there is a strong link between debt and poor mental health. It is likely that people who suffer from debt also face common mental health issues such as prolonged stress, depression, and anxiety.

Debt can also affect physical health, as excessive thinking and stress can lead to reduced sleep quality, which negatively affects one’s physical health and impairs their ability to concentrate throughout the day. A study conducted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists on debt and mental health found that half of the adults with debt issues are living with mental health disorders, ranging from constant feelings of anxiety and low mood to clinically diagnosed mental health conditions.

Debt may cause feelings of anxiety, particularly if one lacks support from friends, family, or creditors, and debt can pose a significant burden, worsening when handled alone.

The study noted that anxiety about debt could affect sleep, and losing a good night’s sleep not only impacts a person’s mood and energy levels but can also affect their ability to work or maintain good relationships with friends and family.

Threatening community safety

Debts and the need to repay them put pressure on individuals and families, exacerbating family problems.

Lawyer Mohammed al-Salamah from Idlib city told Enab Baladi that the dire living conditions and the accumulation of debts cause problems that threaten the safety and security of the community and the stability of families, which are pillars of society.

According to the lawyer, more than 70% of the divorce cases he witnesses are primarily due to the financial worries faced by citizens, which negatively reflect on their social and family lives, and ultimately lead to severe disputes between spouses ending in divorce and family breakdown.

On the other hand, the lawyer mentioned that the accumulation of debts leads to an increase in judicial cases related to financial claims throughout the courts in northern Syria, often ending with the imprisonment of the debtor unable to make payments.

He noted that the citizens’ inability to secure their material needs and repay their debts, coupled with the lack of solutions and job opportunities, has led some to crime to meet these needs, like theft or fraud, while others have defaulted on their financial obligations, ending up in prison as a result.

Towards further deterioration

In Syria, 16.7 million people need humanitarian assistance, according to estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The year 2024 indicates that humanitarian and economic indicators in the country continue to deteriorate, and the economic situation is “increasingly severe,” serving as a major driver of needs, according to the UNHCR.

80% of the Syrian population needs some form of humanitarian aid in 2024, according to the Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) for 2024.

Approximately 55% of the population in Syria, or 12.9 million people, suffer from food insecurity, including 3.1 million who are severely food insecure.

Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Idlib, Anas al-Khouli, contributed to this report.


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