Many displaced live in the open after failing to find shelter in formal camps

ATME, Syria: Outside her makeshift tent, Syrian mother Mona Mutayr lays out a frugal meal of potatoes and cucumber as her family marks their first Ramadan since being displaced by war. The holy Islamic month is usually one of celebration, with Muslims fasting from dawn to dusk and gathering around a family meal after sunset. But regime bombardment forced Mutayr and her family to flee their home earlier this month and set up camp in an olive grove near the Turkish border.

"The days are long and hard," said 31-year-old Mutayr, wearing a long red and black dress and matching headscarf as she prepared the evening meal. "We're spending Ramadan here against our will," she said, as small barefoot children waited for their food under a canvas tent strung up around a tree trunk.

The Damascus regime and its Russian ally have upped their deadly bombardment in recent weeks on Syria's northwestern region of Idlib held by the country's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, causing more than 200,000 people to flee their homes, according to the United Nations. More than a third now live outside in the open after failing to find shelter in formal camps for the displaced.

'We have nothing'
Under her tent in the area of Atme, Mutayr sits cross-legged on the dry red earth, stooped over a potato she peeled with a small knife. "I made a little less potatoes for them today," she said, before laying out a plate of fries and two others of diced cucumber in what appeared to be thinned down yoghurt. It's a far cry from Ramadans past in their hometown of Humayrat in the north of Hama province, she said, when she and her family would break their fasts with a feast in the garden under a canopy of grapevines. "There was plenty of water and electricity. It was a good life," she said. "Look what's become of us now… Sometimes there's not enough food."

Charities sometimes donate Ramadan meals of rice and chicken to those at the makeshift camp, but Mutayr says her family has not received such aid in four days. "Our life has become heat and dust," she said. All around her, families have pitched shelters made of canvas strung between trees, their tops tied to branches and bottoms weighed down with clumps of earth. A lone goat rummages for food as a woman hangs clothes out to dry on a line.

Not far off, 42-year-old Hussein Al-Nahar, his pregnant wife and their six children are also spending their first Ramadan homeless. "How is someone supposed to feel when they're forced from their home during Ramadan?" said the agricultural worker. "It's so tragic. We have nothing."

No clothes for Eid
Nahar arrived in Atme a little more than two weeks ago after fleeing regime barrel bombs being pelted down on his hometown of Kafr Nabuda, in the north of Hama province. Surrounded by her children, Nahar's wife, 30-year-old Rihab, strokes the hair of a small boy resting his head in her lap. Pregnant with a seventh child, she has no idea how the family will celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan when many children receive new clothing. "The children want new clothes for Eid, but we don't have the money," she said, dressed in a long grey robe and beige headscarf. "We don't even have enough blankets."

As the sun sets, Rihab's family gathers around a small portion of chicken and rice donated by a charity, and a second plate of fried potatoes she has prepared. In previous Ramadans, "we wouldn't want for anything", she said. But today, "we sit around waiting for meals from charities, though sometimes we don't get any", she said. The day before there was nothing to cook, she said. "We had bread and tea." - AFP