A Lebanese security policeman carries computers that were confiscated from a shop that handles money transfers, on Hamra street, in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, March 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
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Money transfer shops are a ubiquitous sight in Beirut, part of the chaotic jumble of the capital's streets. Yet these Western Union and MoneyGram shops operate as a lifeline for Syrian refugees in Lebanon who are largely unable to open bank accounts in the country.Without bank transfers, many rely on services to wire money to family members still inside Syria, some of whom live under Daesh (ISIS) and other extremist groups.Six Lebanese nationals were released Thursday after security forces raided 16 transfer shops accused of wiring installments totaling upward of $20 million to the extremist militant group in Syria.Western Union, one of Lebanon's most popular money transfer services, does operate inside Syria but only in Damascus, Homs and Tartous.With the formal options limited or unusable for anyone trying to send money to family outside of regime-held areas in Syria, the only other recourse is using unofficial networks of couriers to transfer money by informal channels.While the transfer of large sums of money to fundamentalist organizations such as Daesh remains a risk, for average Syrian nationals – already faced with work restrictions and few opportunities in their host country of Lebanon – there remains little choice but use the informal services in order to help their families.
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