Ramadan of the displaced: Observing the holy month away from home

Ahram Online , Monday 21 Jul 2014

Save the Children NGO spent the sunset iftar meal with two refugee families from Syria and Sudan spending Ramadan in displaceement

Syrian boys eat during Ramadan Iftar
Syrian boys eat during Ramadan Iftar (Photo: Meg Pruce/Save the Children)

As part of a photo project entitled Ramadan of the Displaced, undertaken to find out what this year’s Ramadan means for the thousands of displaced people, the Save the Children NGO spent iftar (sunset meal breaking the fast) with refugee, migrant and internally displaced families across the Middle East region, including Egypt.

The images captured during these visits present an intimate picture of the plight of refugees and displaced people in Egypt, their family stories, hopes, expectations and disappointments, shared during this time of spiritual reflection, charity and celebration of the community spirit for Muslims around the world.

Save the Children spent the Ramadan iftar with Syrian and Sudanese families in the first days of Ramadan.

On 1 July, they spent iftar in the 10th of Ramadan City with a Syrian family -- the family of Farouq and Ghada having invited their Syrian neighbours, also refugees in Egypt, to join them in breaking the fast.

On 2 July, the international NGO headed to Ard Al-Lewa for iftar with the Sudanese family of single mother Sawsan, who also invited her friends to join them in breakfast. Economic hardships brought by the war in Sudan had compelled the family to move to Egypt in 2011, while Sawsan's eldest daughter -- 29-year-old Wafaa, who studied dentistry in Sudan but cannot practice in Egypt -- is looking to emigrate to the United Arab Emirates.

Both locations – Cairo’s 10th of Ramadan City and Giza’s Ard Al-Lewa – are preferred by refugees due to their low apartment rental fees.

According to the UNHCR's official numbers, there are nearly 150,000 Syrian and nearly 20,000 Sudanese refugees registered in Egypt, while the estimated numbers of unregistered Syrian and Sudanese refugees in the country exceed 750,000.

Save the Children has been operating in Egypt since 1982 to serve children, including refugee children.

Photos by Meg Pruce and Captions by Rabab Hassan and Simine Alam from Save the Children.

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Childhood friends Ghada and Zeina were neighbours in Syria and now they are neighbours in Cairo. Ghada grounds the bulgur for the kubbeh (minced meat covered in a casing made of bulgur wheat) she is making for the iftar meal. This is Ghada’s second Ramadan in Cairo and, according to her, their situation has improved since their first experience in Egypt. “Last year Ramadan was terrible for us! We were new in Cairo; we lived in an awful flat where the pipes leaked all the time. We couldn’t afford any furniture so the flat was empty. We had one room in which we all slept on the floor and then suddenly we would wake up because the pipes leaked so much that the water would flood the whole room and soak our mattresses! We didn’t know anyone either and so it was extremely lonely. At least this year we have our neighbours and good friends with us.”

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Abeer, eight years old, looks on as her father Farouq helps to get the iftar meal ready for the family to break their fast in the month of Ramadan. Farouq and his family had a tough journey out of Syria. After their village was attacked, they moved out to the desert where they lived for a month in a tent. When the area they were living in was attacked too, they moved again to a village, and continued to move in this way for many months. Eventually they took the decision to leave the country, crossing into Lebanon by road and then flying from Beirut to Cairo.

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Farouq gets the fatteh hummus (chickpeas mixed with bread and fava beans) ready for the iftar meal with his family. Farouq is not hopeful for a bright future for his family in Egypt. “The future looks very bleak for Syrian refugees living in Cairo. I am 40 years old. I can’t live day by day without planning for my family’s future. As a refugee, suddenly you find yourself lost with no plan. Thankfully the children are now in school but what about university and then a career for them later? They were studying in excellent schools in Syria. We are talking about finding a way to get to Europe. At least over there my children will have better opportunities. We are saving up enough money to get in a boat which takes people across the Mediterranean. This time next year we won’t be in Cairo.”

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Two Syrian families sit together for the iftar meal to break their fast on the third day of Ramadan. Fathers Kamal and Farouq are childhood friends. They were neighbours in Syria and now they are neighbours in Egypt. Kamal’s family has been in Cairo for two months, having decided to go there because Farouq's family was already living and settled in the Egyptian capital. Both families undertook long journeys in order to reach safety in Cairo. Kamal* travelled with his three sons by road from Syria to Jordan. Once they crossed the border in the north of Jordan they travelled by road across the whole country to Aqaba, the port city in the south of Jordan, where they got a boat to Nuweiba, Egypt. They then got a bus to Cairo from there.

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Yusuf, six years old, eats tabbouleh, a traditional salad made of parsley, coriander, mint and bulgur wheat. The family makes tabbouleh every night during the month of Ramadan. The youngest of his three siblings, Yusuf’s health has suffered as a result of all the displacement his family has undergone in order to reach safety from the conflict in Syria. Yusuf was born with a blood disease requiring medical attention. He became very weak during the family’s wanderings in Syria, which is why they eventually decided to leave the country.

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Lana, seven years old, stands in the doorway of her apartment building in Ard El-Lewa, passing the time before her family’s iftar is served. Lana has been living in Egypt since 2011, with her mother Sawsan and her eldest sister Wafaa.

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Asmaa, 26, is a friend of the family and is helping to prepare their iftar meal, with which to break the fast in Ramadan. Here she prepares a traditional type of Sudanese beans which are not available in Egypt. According to Asmaa, “There’s a big difference between Egyptian food and Sudanese food. Whenever we hear about people coming to Egypt from Sudan we ask them to bring us Sudanese ingredients, like the lentils and beans, and the flour to make asseeda (porridge made of millet flour)”.

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Sawsan serves lentil soup for her family members at iftar. Sawsan left Sudan as the political situation was making it impossible for her to run her business. “I was exporting Sudanese products, such as sesame and hibiscus, to a number of countries. But during the war I faced a number of problems in business, especially after the division of the north from South Sudan. The economic situation became too hard and so I came to Egypt to see if I could try and work things out here to be able to look after my family.”

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Lana, seven years old, serves cake to her family after they have broken their fast. Lana attends the nearby centre for refugee and host community children, run by Save the Children and its local partner, the Tadamon Council. “I like going to the Child Friendly Space because I learn new things that I never knew before, like French,” Lana says.

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Minallah, a friend of the family, is a Sudanese refugee from Darfur who has been living in Egypt for the past nine years. He works at a local community centre not far from the family home. “After nine years in Egypt I still can’t get used to life here. I feel a strong sense of solidarity to my people and this is why I work in a centre that organises activities for our youth. When I first arrived in Egypt people had this notion that refugees were uneducated people who were very poor. I think now that times are changing and people are starting to understand that anyone can become a refugee – whether you are from a rich background or a poor background. It doesn’t matter when it comes to war. The most important thing is safety for you and your family.”

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Wafaa serves coffee and tea for her family members after their iftar meal. According to Wafaa, “some things are better about Ramadan in Egypt and some things are better about Ramadan in Sudan. For example, Cairo is great for going to cafes and places to hang out with your friends. But there are more interesting activities going on during Ramadan in Sudan. Young people get together and read poetry, sing or dance – it’s a real bonding time for youth.” 

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