At Ramadan, migrants in Europe dream of family and comfort food

Tue Jun 7, 2016 6:26am EDT
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By Joseph Nasr, Nikolaj Skydsgaard and Karolina Tagaris

BERLIN/BASTAD, Sweden/ATHENS, (Reuters) - As Ramadan began in Germany on Monday, Syrian asylum seeker Khairallah Swaid said he would pray for a reunion with his wife, who is stranded at a camp in Greece, and crave his mother's makloubeh, a meat and rice dish served during the fasting month.

The Muslim holy month that began this year on June 6 revolves around daily fasts from sunrise to sunset, and then favorite meals with family and friends during the night hours.

But for many of the hundreds of thousands of migrants who came to Europe last year - mainly Muslims escaping war, conflict and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond - Ramadan this time around will be a much more subdued affair.

In Germany, most are still living in shelters where they have long complained that the food served by caterers contracted by local authorities is "inedible". Their protest has grown raucous with the approach of the religious festival.

"You can't have Ramadan without good food," said 25-year-old Swaid, sitting next to his brother Hamza at Sham (Levant), a popular Syrian snack bar in Neukoelln, a poor district of Berlin with a large migrant population.

Swaid, who lives in a shelter north of the German capital, spends most of the 120 euros ($136) he gets a month on food. He and other asylum seekers chip in for flatbread, rice and vegetables, which they cook using a kettle.

"I miss my wife, but during Ramadan I will miss my mother's food more," joked Swaid a few days before Ramadan, eating pieces of flatbread stuffed with chicken shawarma and garlic paste.

Many shelters in Berlin are hosting Ramadan for the first time and some are trying to ensure a pleasant dining experience.   Continued...

A migrant prays during the first day of Ramadan at a state-run camp for refugees and migrants in Schisto, near Athens, Greece June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis