For Syrian refugees in Lebanon, a troublesome Ramadan

BHANNINE, Lebanon (AP) — It was messy and hectic in Aisha al-Abed’s kitchen, as the primary day of Ramadan usually is. Meals needed to be on the desk at exactly 7:07 p.m. when the solar units and the daylong quick ends.

What’s historically a jovial celebration of the beginning of the Muslim holy month round a hearty meal was muted and dispirited for her small Syrian refugee household.

Because the 21-year-old mom of two labored, together with her toddler daughter in tow, reminders of life’s hardships have been in all places: Within the makeshift kitchen, the place she crouched on the bottom to cut cucumbers subsequent to a single-burner gasoline range. Of their residence: a tent with a concrete ground and wood partitions lined in a tarp. And, undoubtedly, of their iftar meal — rice, lentil soup, french fries and a yogurt-cucumber dip; her sister despatched over somewhat rooster and fish.

“That is going to be a really troublesome Ramadan,” al-Abed mentioned. “This ought to be a greater meal … After a day’s quick, one wants extra vitamin for the physique. After all, I really feel defeated.”

Ramadan, which started Tuesday, comes as Syrian refugees’ lifetime of displacement has gotten even more durable amid their host nation Lebanon’s financial woes. The wrestle could be extra pronounced throughout the holy month, when fasting is usually adopted by festive feasting to fill empty stomachs.

“Excessive costs are killing individuals,” mentioned Raed Mattar, al-Abed’s 24-year-old husband. “We could quick all day after which break our quick on solely an onion,” he mentioned, utilizing an Arabic proverb often meant to convey disappointment after lengthy persistence.

Lebanon, residence to greater than 1 million Syrian refugees, is reeling from an financial disaster exacerbated by the pandemic and a large explosion that destroyed elements of the capital final August.

Citing the affect of the compounded crises, a U.N. examine mentioned the proportion of Syrian refugee households dwelling beneath the acute poverty line — the equal of roughly $25 a month per particular person by present black market charges — swelled to 89% in 2020, in comparison with 55% the earlier yr.

Extra individuals resorted to decreasing the scale or variety of meals, it mentioned. Half the Syrian refugee households surveyed undergo from meals insecurity, up from 28% on the identical time in 2019, it mentioned.

Refugees are usually not alone of their ache. The financial turmoil, which is the end result of years of corruption and mismanagement, has squeezed the Lebanese, plunging 55% of the nation’s 5 million individuals into poverty and shuttering companies.

As jobs grew to become scarce, Mattar mentioned extra Lebanese competed for the low-paying development and plumbing jobs beforehand left largely for international staff like himself. Wages misplaced their worth because the native foreign money, fastened to the greenback for many years, collapsed. Mattar went from making the equal of greater than $13 a day to lower than $2, roughly the worth of a kilo and a half (about 3 kilos) of non-subsidized sugar.

“Individuals are variety and are serving to, however the scenario has turn out to be disastrous,” he mentioned. “The Lebanese themselves cannot stay. Think about how we’re managing.”

Nerves are fraying. Mattar was amongst a whole bunch displaced from a casual camp final yr after a bunch of Lebanese set it on hearth following a battle between a Syrian and a Lebanese.

It was the fifth displacement for al-Abed’s younger household, bouncing primarily between casual settlements in northern Lebanon. They needed to transfer twice after that, as soon as when a Lebanese landowner doubled the lease, telling Mattar he can afford it since he will get support as a refugee. Their present tent is in Bhannine.

This yr, Syrians marked the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the uprising-turned-civil conflict of their nation. Many refugees say they can not return as a result of their houses have been destroyed or they concern retribution, both for being thought of opposition or for evading navy conscription, like Mattar. He and al-Abed every fled Syria in 2011 and met in Lebanon.

Even earlier than Ramadan began, Rahaf al-Saghir, one other Syrian in Lebanon, fretted over what her household’s iftar would appear to be.

“I don’t know what to do,” mentioned the just lately widowed mom of three daughters. “The ladies preserve saying they crave meat, they crave rooster, biscuits and fruit.”

Because the household’s choices dwindled, her daughters’ questions grew to become extra coronary heart wrenching. Why can’t we’ve got chips just like the neighbors’ children? Why don’t we drink milk to develop up like they are saying on tv? Al-Saghir recalled breaking into tears when her youngest requested her what the strawberry she was seeing on tv tasted like. She later purchased her some, utilizing U.N. help cash, she mentioned.

For Ramadan, al-Saghir was decided to cease her daughters from seeing pictures of different individuals’s iftar meals. “I don’t need them to check themselves to others,” she mentioned. “When you’re fasting in Ramadan, you crave a whole lot of issues.”

The beginning of Ramadan, the primary since al-Saghir’s husband died, introduced tears. Her oldest daughters have been used to their father waking them for suhoor, the pre-dawn meal earlier than the day’s quick, which he’d put together.

A couple of months earlier than he died — of cardiac arrest — the household moved right into a one-bedroom residence shared with a relative’s household.

This yr, their first iftar was easy — french fries, soup and fattoush salad. Al-Saghir needed rooster however determined it was too costly.

Earlier than violence uprooted them from Syria, Ramadan felt festive. Al-Saghir would cook dinner and trade visits with household and neighbors, gathering round delicious savory and candy dishes.

“Now, there’s no household, no neighbors and no sweets,” she mentioned. “Ramadan looks like every other day. We could even really feel extra sorrow.”

Amid her struggles, she turns to her religion.

“I preserve praying to God,” she mentioned. “Could our prayers in Ramadan be answered and will our scenario change. … Could a brand new path open for us.”


Fam reported from Egypt. Related Press journalist Fay Abuelgasim contributed from Bhannine.


Related Press faith protection receives assist from the Lilly Endowment via The Dialog U.S. The AP is solely chargeable for this content material.

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