70-year-old Maneerah describes her once beautiful Aleppo, Syria as a city of dust and death. She speaks of the terror of falling barrel bombs, the hunger as food ran out and her littlest grandchildren being so traumatized they stopped speaking.
As months turned to years, Maneerah constantly feared the war would take the life of a precious child or grandchild. Not even during Ramadan did the fighting stop.
The Month of Ramadan
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Every day during this month, Muslims around the world, fast from sunrise to sunset. They abstain from food, drink, and other physical needs during the daylight hours. It is a time to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-sacrifice.
Muslims are called upon this holly month to celebrate and live the universal human values of patience, compassion, piety and goodwill. On top of the Zakat they contribute annually, Muslims give an additional contribution by the end of Ramadan, knows as ‘Zakat al Fitr’, with the purpose of ‘purifying one’s soul’ by providing the poor with the means to celebrate the occasion of breaking the fast ‘Eid al Fitr’.
A twist of fate
With numbers growing at a rate of 100,000 people every month, Maneerah is just one of the 2.9 million Syrian refugees registered in the region who are forced to spend this Ramadan away from home.
When her home and suburb was flattened in a bombing raid in January, Maneerah thanked god that again her children had been spared their lives. But for how much longer could they survive the bullets and bombs?
Badly injured from the bomb that destroyed her home but lucky to be alive, Maneerah, her sons and their families fled through war-torn Aleppo and then onwards hundreds of kilometers to Iraq. On foot they crossed the border and Maneerah dared to think that finally her family might survive the terrible war.
But life can be cruel. Just two days after they arrived, Maneerah’s son Hamid died from a massive heart attack. His death, when Maneerah finally thought her children would be safe, has broken her heart.
The urgent need for funding and support
Earlier this month, UNHR and its partners warned of dramatic consequences if funding gaps for Syrian refugees continue. "Failing to provide enough humanitarian support for Syrian refugees by the end of 2014 could result in dramatic consequences for refugees and the stability of the entire region, including a serious security threat to Lebanon," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.
So far in 2014, UNHCR and its partners received only 30 per cent of what is actually needed to meet many of the food, health, education and protection needs of refugees.
Thanking donors for their generous contributions so far, Guterres warned of some of the hardships and risks facing refugees if the rate of funding does not increase quickly enough to meet mounting needs. These may include limited health services and contagious disease and above all reduced food rations.
The Food Situation
Maneerah says that in the months before she fled Aleppo, Syria with her family, once daily tasks like buying bread had deadly consequences – should one wait another day without enough food for the children or brave the snipers and falling bombs to get to the store?
Like many Syrian’s Maneerah, the matriarch of a large family, had prided herself on the meals she and her daughters would make, especially for iftar during Ramadan. But after months of active war, fresh meat, fruit and vegetables were increasingly scarce and food had become another battleground in the bitter civil war.
Life in the camp
Today, Maneerah is a refugee with her family in Iraq. In remote Basirma refugee camp where she lives temperatures in summer frequently top 35 degrees Celsius and with no fridge in their tent, the family spends a lot of precious money buying ice and relies on a dry food diet.
The tents are boiling hot, even with UNHCR supplied fans. Scorpions and poisonous snakes are a daily risk but Maneerah says the worst thing is seeing the young people in the camp – they are angry, sad and traumatised by the horrors they witnessed in Syria.
And while the family is celebrating Ramadan, Maneerah says this year iftar will be nothing like before the war. But, still she will not complain. In the camp they have food at least. She also has some of her children and grandchildren with her yet in her quiet moments you see how much the war has taken its toll and how much she misses her home.
In Aleppo Maneerah lived in the apartment she had shared with her husband for many years, her children never far away.
Wishes in Ramadan
Maneerah says that she wishes that things were the way they were before the war, especially at Ramadan, with her uncles, brothers, sisters and all of her children around her. But, with an end to the war still not in sight Maneerah says all she can do is pray for her family and hope that one day soon they will be able to return home.
Maneerah never imagined that at 70 years old she would become a refugee. She never imagined that she would outlive a child or that her once beautiful country would tear itself apart with war. But even as a refugee, Maneerah is thankful to God for what she has.
This Ramadan, as she has done every year, Maneerah will help the many families in the refugee camp where she lives who have even less than her.
A Message from the High Commissioner for the Month of Ramadan
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