For millions of Iraqis another Ramadan in displacement
Baghdad - With some 700,000 Iraqis fleeing battles between government forces and Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Mosul, the number of refugees in poorly equipped camps near the embattled city has swollen dramatically in recent months. Lack of food and water, as well as high temperatures, are some of the problems they encounter as they fast during Ramadan, the holy month for all Muslims.
When Mohamad Yassin and his family of nine fled their home in the eastern Mosul neighbourhood of Badoush, fasting during Ramadan was the least of his worries. Now the 71-year-old finds himself in Jamkour camp in neighbouring Erbil, a place packed with the city’s residents and short of basics, struggling to do his religious duty to fast during daylight in Iraq’s scorching weather.
“Despite the lack of electricity and cooling equipment in the camp we are determined to fast during Ramadan,” Yassin insisted. He said he does not have enough money to buy ice to cool water and has been selling part of the assistance he received from humanitarian agencies to secure other basic needs.
“For instance, our suhour (pre-dawn meal before fasting starts) for today will merely consist of tea and bread. I hope we will receive additional food aid to be able to complete the fasting month,” he said.
Not all refugees are as determined as Yassin. “I am not sure that I will be able to fast during Ramadan this year. Life at the camp is very difficult; conditions are dramatic and inhuman. It makes fasting harsher and more problematic especially for the elderly and the ill,” says 35-year-old Jassem Diab.
He contends that many Iraqi families will skip fasting due to displacement, poverty and poor food assistance that prevented them from preparing well for Ramadan. Difficult though that was before Ramadan, it has been made all the worse because after enduring an entire day in the heat, they are left with only hot water to drink after sunset, leaving their thirst unquenched.
“On normal days, we suffer to secure our basic needs. During Ramadan, it is even worse amid scorching heat and up to 15 hours of fasting a day,” Diab added.
Diab and his family have been at al-Khalidiyah camp in Anbar province for almost a year since fleeing his hometown of Falluja. His house and all his belongings were destroyed in the battles that ended the ISIS occupation of the city.
“Responsibility lies primarily on the local government,” he said. “They have been unable to help us return to our homes or give us any kind of compensation. We have lost everything to the war.”
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes because of the unrest in Iraq this year. Most had little time to leave and set off for Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, which buttresses many of the areas occupied by ISIS. More than 3 million Iraqis live in camps in different parts of the country, relying on aid provided by local, Arab and international humanitarian organisations.
Razkar Obeid, the official in charge of refugee camps near Erbil, concedes that the lack of electricity is the biggest problem facing refugees fasting during Ramadan in tents baking in searing temperatures.
“We have undertaken big preparations during the holy month through the distribution of large food portions to the refugees whose number exceeded 77,000 in camps in Erbil alone,” Obeid said.
An estimated 700,000 people have been displaced from Mosul since the offensive to recapture the city from ISIS began in October. They include 176,000 refugees from eastern Mosul and 525,000 from the western part of the city, which is cut through by the Tigris River, said Seif Sabah, spokesman for Iraq’s Ministry of Immigration and Refugees.
“Many have been resettled in several camps set up by the Ministry in Erbil, Sulaimaniya and al-Kyara,” Sabah said. “With the beginning of Ramadan, the ministry launched the ‘summer cladding’ programme under which the refugees will receive special food baskets.”
The internally displaced population of Iraq wishes to return to their homes and cities and recover a normal life, which they have been missing since ISIS overran a large part of the country more than two years ago.
“They lack the most basic services and conditions of living. Aid organisations are making contributions but the sheer number of displaced over such a short period has been overwhelming,” noted Asma Abaid, the volunteers’ team leader of Iraq TV and Broadcasters Union.
“The assistance provided is not sufficient, but disproportionate with the large number of displaced. For them Ramadan is as harsh as the rest of the year. They just want to return to a normal life.”
For Ahmad Mohamad, a 25-year-old worker from Mosul, it is another Ramadan spent in hardship and displacement. “For more than two years we have been missing the true feel and joy of Ramadan,” he said. “Life at the camp is unbearable. We struggle to secure our most basic needs.”