Mediterranean journeys in hope

Preparing for Ramadan in the refugee camps

Fasting in a refugee camp is not easy, but by observing Ramadan’s rituals refugees are clawing back an element of their own agency.

Véronique Saunier
3 June 2016

The mosque in Idomeni. Photo by Phil Le Gal, all rights reserved.

A week away from the beginning of Ramadan, refugees and NGOs acting in the camps across Greece are getting ready for the annual Muslim ritual that requires its followers to fast from sunrise to sunset for one whole month. This year, the holy month of Ramadan starts on June 6 and will last until July 6.

Despite the harsh living conditions, the expected long days, and hot weather, a majority of refugees – including pregnant women and young children – pledge that they will fast. “Our faith is all we have left and we are not going to give that up too,” says Zaida, a Syrian mother of three young boys. She insists her eldest son, Ramadan, aged seven, will fast too.

For Muslim refugees, practicing their faith in the camps can be challenging. Men admit that they do not pray every day in the makeshift mosque because they cannot wash properly. Parents of new-born boys are worried that their children cannot be circumcised because of the lack of doctors who are trained in this procedure. Circumcision usually takes place within the first two months after the birth of a boy. “It hurts more and heals slower when you do it late”, explains Zaida.


Photo by author, all rights reserved.

Fasting during the Ramadan period is thus the only ritual over which they can have some control. NGOs present in the camps are getting ready. The Greek NGO Praksis in charge of providing food will start serving as early as 3:00 am so that refugees can start queueing on time to have their first meal before sunrise. “The evening meal will be served after sunset”, explains a representative of Praksis. 

Medical staff will also adapt their schedule accordingly. “We will have night shifts”, says Isabelle, a medic for Médecins du Monde. Médecins Sans Frontieres has also issued guidelines to its staff regarding the appropriate behaviour to adopt during the holy month of Ramadan. It stresses being patient as “people who fast for hours under the sun can be edgy”.


Photo by author, all rights reserved.

Conveniently, technology also comes to the rescue. The refugees who own a smartphone can download a free prayer times application called Al-Moazin – developed by the company Parfield Software – that calls for prayers at the required time and indicates the direction in which to pray.

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