Jordan gearing up for another Ramadan with refugees

Sunday 28/05/2017
Striving to maintain traditions. Refugees having iftar at one of the temporary restaurants that open exclusively during Ramadan. (Nader Daoud)

Amman - Last year, Khairi Abu Ha­meedah joined friends and enlisted the support of hotels and restaurants in Amman to provide food for refugees and poor Jordanians during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. He said he intends to repeat this initiative this year with the hope of reaching a larger num­ber of people.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is observed by Muslims as a period of fasting to commemorate the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Mohammad.

“Ramadan is about families get­ting together to eat after a day of fasting. Our thoughts and feelings are with the refugees here who might not have food at their tables and are stuck with memories of what they had during Ramadan be­fore the war,” Abu Hameedah said.

“Last Ramadan, we managed to provide food to refugees in coop­eration with hotels and restaurants and hopefully we will do the same this year. Hotels generously do­nated extra food from their kitchen which we could distribute to the families.”

Diverse menus and buffets are commonly offered in hotels and restaurants for iftar, the evening meal when Muslims break their day-long fast, often resulting in large amounts of extra food.

“We saw a need to provide assis­tance to deprived families whether they are Jordanians, Iraqis or Syr­ians,” Abu Hameedah said. “We started with ten families at the be­ginning of Ramadan last year but the number later grew to around 25 families and we even managed to bring toys to their kids.

“It was the team effort involving two hotels, several restaurants and my friends who made it possible. This year we are aiming for more families and we are working on it.”

Jordan topped an Amnesty In­ternational list of countries that host more than half of the world’s refugees. More than 2.7 million refugees from 40 countries, main­ly Iraqis and Syrians, have placed enormous pressure on the eco­nomic and social infrastructure in Jordan.

Most Jordanians sympathise with refugees who fled their coun­tries with the hope that they would return in a short while. However, months have turned into years without a chance to go home.

“We have never planned to stay here that long. We thought it will be for a few months but now we are in our third year. Even my lit­tle daughter was born here,” said Abdullah Salim, a Syrian refugee in Azraq refugee camp, east of Am­man.

“I have a small family and for us Ramadan is all about gathering the families at one table and sharing food and laughs but, since we left Syria, things are just about surviv­ing,” Salim said.

Built in 2014, the Azraq camp hosts more than 35,449 Syrian ref­ugees, 58% of whom are children. Refugees receive around $28 per month per person from the World Food Programme in the form of electronic vouchers that can be used to buy food from the camp’s market.

“Our neighbour has a family of eight and I think he will have big issue feeding them. Everything is so expensive and Ramadan will be a sad occasion for many,” Salim added.

Rana, a 23-year-old Syrian refu­gee, roams the streets of Amman begging for money to help her fam­ily of eight. During Ramadan, she sits near bakeries and mosques with the hope of receiving bread and other food.

“It is true we left our country and it is true we are poor but this is not a reason to deprive my little broth­ers and sisters from enjoying a de­cent Ramadan,” said Rana, whose father was killed in Syria.

“For us, Ramadan used to be an occasion to see all the family dur­ing iftar and enjoy a feast of various meals the same way Jordanians do, but now it is a different story. We try to save and eat the leftovers and pray that things will just get better.”

This year Jordanians are prepar­ing for Ramadan amid calls for ra­tioning and avoiding wasteful iftars and to be more spiritual instead.

“We are losing the true meaning of fasting Ramadan by becoming more of a consumer society rather than getting closer to God and fam­ily during this time of the year; when we get invited to iftar and see all this food wasted, we have to think about the others,” said Haitham Najjar, 48, a car dealer.

Markets in Jordan are being stocked to meet the increase in de­mand for food during the fasting month.

Abu Hameedah said he is confi­dent Jordanians will be able to pro­vide iftar meals for their families and assist refugees and the poor despite the increase in food prices.