Distaste towards business of banking by the general public is not a new phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination. However it seems that one particular bank has out-done itself by managing to attract the fury of Muslims across the country. HSBC, or 'the world's local bank' as they choose to market themselves, has become embroiled in a heated Islamophobia scandal since it was revealed the global banking giant has closed the business accounts of a number of Islamic charities. The Bolton-based Ummah Welfare Trust, a UK-registered charity, and others have been targeted by HSBC's account closure policy. Covering all bases, the bank also sought to close down the personal accounts of individuals related to these organisations, even the 12-year-old son of Anas Altikriti who is the chief-executive of one of these organisations. But HSBC's taste for haphazardly closing legitimate accounts seems to reach new frightening heights with the news that the bank has reportedly closed the accounts of a number of law-abiding British residents of Syrian origin.
The Rethink Rebuild Society of British-Syrians in Manchester as well as RAPAR, a Manchester-based human rights organisation, have reported that HSBC has closed the accounts of several individuals with no proper justifications, refused them mortgages, and turned them down as potential customers for even basic accounts with no credit facility. One letter from HSBC to a former customer of Syrian origin reads, 'Our records show that you are resident in a country that is subject to financial sanction restrictions'. HSBC subsequently closed the account even though the customer never made an international transfer outside of the UK. The only link between these individuals is their link to Syria as a country of origin. Branch staff reportedly informed another HSBC customer of Syrian origin that "extra measures were taken solely because of the Syrian nationality". The branch staff even went as far to admit that nothing in "her account activity would have otherwise caused reason for suspicion". This has left Syrians to speculate with many reaching the logical conclusion that HSBC has criminalised the Syrian identity without any just cause or due process.
Adding icing to the metaphorical anti-Muslim cake, HSBC has provided no explanation in most cases as to why these accounts have been closed for those not of Syrian origin. The bank has stuck firmly to its official line that it is entitled to close accounts of customers with reasonable notice (usually two months). Although HSBC is legally entitled to this, it is questionable whether it is has the moral entitlement and in any case, hiding behind terms and conditions is a weak defence to say the least. Those 'the fortunate ones' who did receive an explanation were informed that their accounts are 'not within the bank's risk appetite' without further explanation. Personally, it is hard to fathom how the pocket-money of a 12-year-old boy is outside of the risk appetite of a bank with pre-tax profit over $22bn last year which seemed perfectly happy to launder the money of Latin American drug cartels and 'rogue nations'.
While Syria implodes causing more bloodshed, the fortunate Syrians who have managed to escape Syria not only have lost their home country, their family members and friends but also it seems their banking facilities. It may seem like a very mundane issue to campaign but access to banking facilities is essential to the smooth running of an individual's everyday life. A bank account is required for everything from paying gas bills to receiving wages. Thus it may worth going as far to say that having a bank in the UK is a modern right which should not be taken away unfairly, especially when the only explanation for doing so is the country of origin or vague concepts of 'risk appetites'.
The consequences of HSBC's potentially discriminatory policy are hitting the already vulnerable the hardest. As one Syrian student studying in Britain said "Syrians already lost so much back home and are constantly worried about the safety of their families. This adds yet an extra burden that they have to carry around". Syrians inside of Syria face terrible conditions, those who have managed to escape are attempting to rebuild their lives outside of Syria with very little help or support, their demands are simple and reasonable; to be treated equally like every other customer at 'the world's global bank' regardless of their country of origin.