Banks in Lebanon have been flooded with desperate customers trying to withdraw their frozen money as the country faces complete financial collapse.
Most customers are only allowed to withdraw small, which is not enough to cover basic living costs, while most have been locked out of foreign currency assets for the last two years.
As FT notes, Lebanon’s financial collapse is one of the worst economic crises in modern history — is in its third year and has forced three-quarters of the population into poverty. The currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value.
On Wednesday, customers held up banks attempting to access their savings before the country’s economy collapsed.
One woman even resorted to using a toy gun to get her own money from a branch of BLOM bank in Beirut; she eventually with over $13,000.
Nowhere to turn
The woman, Sali Hafiz, said she needed the money for her sister’s cancer treatment.
According to BLOM bank, customers forced the branch manager and treasurer to bring money from a safe.
In another incident, an armed man went into a Bankmed branch in the mountain city of Aley to access his savings.
The man was later arrested, but charges were dropped.
“I have nothing more to lose,” the man said.
Ms. Hafiz told local media that she had no choice but to hold up the BLOM bank.
“I have nothing more to lose, I got to the end of the road,” she said.
“I got to a point where I was going to sell my kidney so that my sister could receive treatment.”
Ms. Hafiz tried to draw money days earlier but was refused.
Her mother told local TV: “All we have is this money in the bank. My daughter was forced to take this money – it’s her right, it’s in her account – to treat her sister.”
Financial collapse forcing millions into poverty
Although banks are supposed to make exceptions for customers trying to pay for things like hospital care, many say they do not do this.
Senior bankers have warned that hold-ups may increase.
One told Reuters:
“I think this is an invitation for other people to do the same. As long as people get away with it, they will continue. What a failed state.”
In the August incident, a local man received widespread sympathy after he stormed a Beirut bank with a rifle and held employees and customers hostage for hours to demand some of his $200,000 in frozen savings to pay hospital bills for his sick father.
He was detained but swiftly released.
In January, a bank customer held dozens of people hostage after being told he could not withdraw his foreign currency savings.
Local media reported the man was eventually given some of his savings and surrendered to security forces.
Lebanon has been hammered by its worst economic crisis since 2019.
The local currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value on the black market, while poverty and unemployment have soared.