IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

#BuyPens: Fund for Syria Refugee Abdul Reaches $58K in 22 Hours

A picture of a refugee selling pens on the street while carrying his daughter has triggered a campaign that has raised tens of thousands of dollars.
Get more newsLiveon

A photo of an exhausted Syrian refugee selling pens on the street while carrying his sleeping daughter has triggered an online campaign that's raised $58,000 — or more than $2,500 per hour.

The picture went viral after it was posted on Twitter and retweeted by Norway-based Gissur Simonarson.

It showed the mystery man trying to earn money to feed his family in Beirut, Lebanon, where hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled to in a bid to escape the civil war in their own country.

Simonarson was flooded with requests to help, so he set out to track down the refugee with the help of Twitter users in Beirut and the hashtag #buypens.

Within 24 hours he was identified as Abdul, a single father living with his son Abdelillah, 9, and daughter Reem, 4.

“The response was amazing,” Simonarson told NBC News early Friday. “I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.”

He launched a crowdfunding page to raise money for Abdul, which by 11:15 a.m. ET on Friday had raised $58,000 in 22 hours. It passed the initial $5,000 target in just 30 minutes.

Abdul, who fled to Lebanon almost three years ago and has found a place to live, is “overwhelmed” at the international support since his picture went viral, Simonarson said.

Local activists who helped find Abdul posed for pictures with him and his children.

“He was a little spooked because of people were coming up to him on the streets and talking to him, he started going to different places to usual so it took a while to find him even though we quickly knew who he was,” Simonarson said. “Somebody has bought him a phone so that we can call him and talk to him.”

The Palestinian Syrian had spent time in the besieged Yarmouk camp in Damascus, where thousands are trapped between warring factions without access to food.

Like many refugees in Lebanon, Abdul has been unable to find permanent work since Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011.

Simonarson said he was now working with local officials, including representatives from UNICEF, to ensure Abdul and his family are safe now that they are in the global spotlight.

“UNICEF are trying to get me one of their protection specialists. With thousands of dollars it could be dangerous for him so maybe there is a way to maybe create a fund with a monthly sum of something like that," he said. “It’s something I never expected to happen.”

Image: Syria refugee Abdul (right), with son Abdelillah, 9, and daughter Reem, 4, and an activist
Syria refugee Abdul (right), with son Abdelillah, 9, and daughter Reem, 4, and an activist who helped find them on the streets of Beirut.@syriaross / Twitter