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Iraqis fleeing militants struggle with Ramadan fast

File - In this Sunday, June 29, 2014, displaced Iraqi citizens gather for a communal meal to break their fast during the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, at an encampment for displaced Iraqis who fled from Mosul and other towns, in the Khazer area outside Irbil, northern Iraq.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

AL-KHAZAR CAMP, Iraq: When Iyad Nafia Shiet fled the northern Iraqi city of Mosul last month as militants overran it in a lightning offensive, fasting during Ramadan was the least of his worries.

But now, the 35-year-old finds himself in a camp packed with the city’s residents, or Muslawis, and – short of food, water and electricity during Iraq’s scorching summer – struggling to do his religious duty to fast during daylight.

“Most people here cannot fast – there is no cold water or suhoor,” the father-of-five said of the pre-dawn meal that observant Muslims eat during the holy month.

The stress clearly showing on his face, Shiet, who made his living in Mosul as a construction worker, said: “We don’t know what to do.”

Some 1.2 million people have fled their homes as a result of unrest in Iraq this year, including hundreds of thousands displaced in the past month by an ISIS-led advance that overran large swaths of five provinces north and west of Baghdad.

Most had little time to leave, and set off for Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, which buttresses many of the areas that fell into insurgent hands, but were unable to cross into Kurdistan’s three provinces because of regional rules which prohibit Arabs and Turkmen from entering the region without a local sponsor.

As a result, many have had to settle in camps set up on Kurdistan’s border, in some cases just a short distance from a massive checkpoint guarding the main entry to the Kurdish regional capital, Irbil.

Shiet and his family have been at Al-Khazar camp for upward of a week, and have suffered from the lack of cold water and ice during the summer heat.

Difficult though that was before Ramadan, it has been made all the worse because after enduring an entire day in the heat, they only have hot water to drink after sunset, leaving their thirst unquenched.

A lack of electricity means tents bake in searing summer temperatures, and whereas they received two meals before Ramadan – lunch and dinner – the displaced now receive only the evening meal of iftar to break their fast.

“How can we fast?” asked Shiet, who spends his day listening to quotes from the Koran on his phone.

Iraq’s Kurdish region has provided some aid and set up camps for some of those displaced by the latest unrest. Aid organizations and foreign countries have made their own contributions to fill the gap.

But the sheer number of displaced over such a short period of time has been overwhelming.

“Organizations provide aid, but the situation for the [Kurdish] regional government is difficult, and the provincial councils do not have enough money to support the displaced people,” said Dindar Zebari, deputy head of the Kurdish Foreign Relations Department.

Zebari said Kurdish authorities in Irbil had asked the Iraqi government to ensure that at least civil servants living in camps could collect their salaries elsewhere, and also to transfer their allocations within a national ration card program that would provide basic food to each Iraqi family.

He added that while the central government was providing a cash handout to each displaced family of 300,000 Iraqi dinars ($250), this was conditional on registration, which many families had not yet done.

Some residents of the camp, however, are soldiering on and trying to complete the daily Ramadan fast.

A short distance from Shiet was Mohammad Hamed Jumaa, a restaurant worker from Mosul who sat with his wife and six children, a wet towel wrapped around his head.

“One day is like an entire year,” he complained, “because we cannot sleep from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. because of the heat. “The camp is very hot, and we do not have an air cooler to refrigerate the tent. The atmosphere is dusty, and fasting is hard.”

“But despite that, we fast.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 05, 2014, on page 11.

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Summary

When Iyad Nafia Shiet fled the northern Iraqi city of Mosul last month as militants overran it in a lightning offensive, fasting during Ramadan was the least of his worries.

The stress clearly showing on his face, Shiet, who made his living in Mosul as a construction worker, said: "We don't know what to do".

Some 1.2 million people have fled their homes as a result of unrest in Iraq this year, including hundreds of thousands displaced in the past month by an ISIS-led advance that overran large swaths of five provinces north and west of Baghdad.

Zebari said Kurdish authorities in Irbil had asked the Iraqi government to ensure that at least civil servants living in camps could collect their salaries elsewhere, and also to transfer their allocations within a national ration card program that would provide basic food to each Iraqi family.

Some residents of the camp, however, are soldiering on and trying to complete the daily Ramadan fast.


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