The festival of Eid-al-Fitr is one of the most important days of the Muslim calendar, but for the Syrian refugees in Turkey’s Hatay Province, living beyond the refugee camps, there has been little to celebrate this year.
Over the last two years, refugees living outside the camps have faced increasingly desperate living conditions. With little income, high living costs, and no foreseeable future, many have been forced to forgo the luxury of holiday celebrations. Eid has instead become a time for mourning. “We cannot celebrate,” said one refugee, “it would betray the souls of the dead.”
It is believed 490,000 Syrians have crossed into Turkey since the conflict began, though others say this a conservative estimate. While the Turkish government has housed 200,000 refugees in camps or collective centres, the camps are now at full capacity, and the rest have been fending for themselves in towns and cities across the country. The province of Hatay is one of several to have become clogged by the continuous stream of refugees.
Eid is normally a time of lavish celebrations, marked by family visits and feasts, but there will not be many celebrations here. Few have been able to find work in Turkey, and rent and the cost of food are a constant worry. “I cannot feed the children properly,” said Assa, a refugee from Latakia, “I cannot make them proper meals.”
In one house in the border town of Reyhanli, Eid will pass almost unnoticed. There are 25 people living here in three small rooms. None of the adults have been able to find work, and all are supported by three of their children aged 14, 13 and 11 years old. There is little peace, no privacy and no running water. Asked about Eid, Munira, rocking her youngest child to sleep in her arms, said, “We have forgotten how to be happy.”
“The only Eid we will celebrate is the one when Bashar al-Assad falls.”
In fact for many, Eid will mean renewed hardships, for it will see an end to the charity food packages that many refugees received during the holy month of Ramadan. These offered a lifeline for many struggling families, who otherwise rely on irregular donations from relatives abroad, or the generosity of their Turkish and Syrian neighbors.
For some families, the cost of living in Turkey has become too much to bear, forcing them to return to Syria. Sami, who is five months pregnant, has been living in Turkey for four months, but her husband has been unable to find work. Following Eid, the couple and their three children will return to Idlib, in spite of the raging war.
In addition to the many hardships they face, many feel it would be wrong to celebrate Eid while Syria remains caught in war. Many have relatives living and fighting there. “I thought that by Eid I would be back in Syria with my parents,” said Hibba, from Idlib, with tears in her eyes. “Eid is a time for family, but my family is in Syria, and their village is being shelled. All I can do is pray for them.” Munira agreed. “All we can do this Eid is remember our country and remember our family,” she said. “I will cry all day, for my family and for Syria.”
While restaurants and cafes across the provincial capital of Antakya are filled with people celebrating the holiday, most Syrian families have stayed home this Eid. Some prepared traditional pastries, or visited their relatives, but a feeling of hopelessness pervaded.
“I used to look forward to Eid, but now it is useless to try and feel happy,” said fifteen-year-old Mohammed, who lives in Antakya. “I feel like I am always suffocating.” His uncle, whose four sons are now fighting with the rebels, agreed, “The only Eid we will celebrate is the one when Bashar al-Assad falls.”
EDITOR’S PICK Abandoned amongst the olive groves of Idlib