No joy in Ramadan for Syrian refugees

A Syrian woman sits in front of her tent at an informal refugee camp in the Bekaa village of Jarahieh, Friday, June 19, 2015. (The Daily Star/Osama Kadiri)

BEKAA VALLEY, Lebanon: As she prepared stuffed vine leaves outside her refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley town of Anjar, Zeinab shed tears remembering the joys of passing the holy month ofRamadan in her native Syria.

Ramadan, which began Thursday, falls on hard times for Syrian refugees as their struggle to make ends meet eclipses the joys associated with the holy month, refugees in various localities in the Bekaa Valley said.

Zeinab, who came to Lebanon from Idlib province with her husband Bassam, said she used to welcome the holy month with joy back in the days when the family could afford to prepare a decent meal. “Last year, when Ramadan came, we didn’t feel it,” she added. This year the family is feeling the rise in costs associated with the holiday.”

“There’s pressure … because of the situation [in the country] and the costs,” said Bassam, her husband. “There’s no joy for Ramadan because there are no comforts.”

Lebanon hosts around 1.5 million Syrian refugees and the tiny country, suffering from its own crises, is unable to provide them with adequate aid. Although they promised generous financial aid to Lebanon to help it cope with the crisis, many international donors have failed to live up to their pledges.

As the war in Syria has dragged on for over four years, refugees are increasingly feeling hopeless. With every greeting of “Ramadan kareem” they are quick to respond: “Hopefully the next will be in Syria.”

The holy month is a time for families, neighbors and friends to come together, whether at home or in restaurants, to break the daily fast.

But for many Syrians scattered across the country, this isn’t an option.

The Syrian program Bab al-Hara was playing on Umm Rahaf’s television screen in Bar Elias. Having fled Aleppo with her husband and daughter, Umm Rahaf and her family have resided in Lebanon for over a year.

The 42-year-old Umm Rahaf appeared haggard and burdened by the tribulations of life and the second day of Ramadan was weighing in on her. “How will I live, I don’t know,” she said. “If there’s no income, we can’t celebrate Ramadan. Should we spend it hungry?”

On the first day, Umm Rahaf prepared mujadara, a lentil and rice dish, with a salad on the side. This was not the iftar she had hoped for, least of all after an entire day of fasting. She wanted a meal that she could invite her neighbors to enjoy with her.

Syrian refugees said they rarely invite friends over to share iftar because they did not have enough food to spare due to the tight economic situation. Some said even offering a cold cup of water was difficult. Most families said they fried potatoes to break the fast.

“Tomorrow, when the Eid comes and someone comes here [to visit], what will I offer them?” she asked in reference to Eid al-Fitr. which marks the end of the fasting month. “A cup of water?”

Umm Mohsen from Homs sat with her children in a temporary shelter in the village of Al-Marej. The one she had lived in previously in the same camp had burned down earlier this month. Umm Mohsen isn’t fasting, but some of her family members are.

“The camp burned down as Ramadan approached … do we lie to God?” she asked. She said work to build a new camp on top of the ashes of the old one was not complete, making it difficult to celebrate Ramadan.

The family’s clothes, mattresses and household items, among other things, were lost in the fire.

“We’re not feeling any joy, this Ramadan is different from the ones before,” she said. “We were destroyed in the fire.”


Categories: Arab World, Asia, Lebanon, Syria

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