German refugee centres gear up for Ramadan with catering arrangements

Refugee accommodation centres in Germany are gearing up for Ramadan, with chefs and canteen staff facing long evenings to cater to Muslims as they break their day-long fast.

"We will open our canteens especially between 9:30 and 10:30 pm, cook the midday meal all over again and put together food packs to eat before dawn," says Ole Heldberg, a 28-year-old chef, working at the Neumuenster reception centre in the north-western state of Schleswig-Holstein.

The facility with place for 5,500 people has at times been the largest of its kind in Germany since refugees began arriving in their tens of thousands last summer, many from Syria, Afghanistan and North Africa.

Ahead of the start of Ramadan in Germany on Monday, there are just 450 people accommodated in this former barracks dating back to the 19th century.

Those intending to keep the fast can have an entry made in their access pass and will then be permitted to eat late, after sundown at around 10 pm as the year's longest day approaches.

Signs in various languages have been put up throughout the centre to inform the refugees of the arrangements.

"Virtually all of our 490 refugee accommodation centres in Germany, housing some 140,000 refugees are making arrangements of some kind for Ramadan," German Red Cross spokesman Dieter Schuetz says in Berlin.

"From a staff and organizational perspective there is more work to do," Schuetz adds.

Muslims observing the annual fast will not eat or drink between around 5 am and 10 pm during the northern European summer.

Breaking the fast is cause for celebration and feasting, after which the observant will go to a mosque, in many cases the men and women separately.

There are three mosques in Neumuenster, a city of some 80,000 not far from the Danish border. Schleswig-Holstein has gone to great lengths to provide the necessary flexibility, says Magdalena Drywa of the state's office that deals with refugee issues.

"In fact refugees do not have to fast, as they could be described as travellers, and travellers are not obliged to fast," says Orhan Kilic, himself a Muslim and head of the Red Cross accommodation in Neumuenster.

Kilic, whose family is of Turkish origin, says that based on his 15 years of working experience, around a third of the refugees will keep the fast.

He does not anticipate any serious difficulties, although there will be organizational hurdles.

"Those fasting usually use as much of the day as possible to sleep so as to stick it out until the evening. But in the reception centre there are fixed appointments with the authorities or with doctors that the refugees have to keep," Kilic says.

"It does happen that someone fasting faints," he says.

And Schuetz adds that hunger and thirst can lead tempers to fray. Social workers will be on duty up to midnight in the Berlin refugee centres to deal with any difficulties.

"They will be able to mediate in any conflict and are there as a point of contact. Usually our social workers are on duty only to 8 pm," he says.

The centres are also making communal rooms available for people to break their fast at sundown in groups of family and friends as they would in their home countries.

Kilic says that there is rarely conflict between those fasting and those choosing not to.

Nizar Almakkawi, a 39-year-old Syrian Muslim who came to Germany as a refugee a year ago and now works for the Red Cross in Neumuenster in an honorary capacity, says: "Everyone fasts for themselves."

Almakkawi says he has seen widespread tolerance and respect for religious beliefs. He recalls that where he lived in Damascus, Christians and Muslims even used to join in the fasts of their neighbours of the other faith as a gesture of solidarity.

Last update: Sat, 04/06/2016 - 13:20

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