‘We lost everything in the fighting — but not our faith’

A family breaks fast during Ramadan in its temporary shelter in Marawi City. (Reuters)
Updated 28 May 2019
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‘We lost everything in the fighting — but not our faith’

  • Displaced families in Philippines celebrate Ramadan in makeshift ‘tent city’

MARAWI CITY: Thousands of Filipino Muslims who lost their homes in a bitter five-month battle between security forces and terrorists in 2017 welcomed Ramadan this year in evacuation centers and a “tent city.” 

The country’s only Muslim city fell to the Daesh-inspired Maute Group, forcing 44,000 families to flee, according to official figures. Up to 18,000 of these families are still living in makeshift shelters awaiting a return home. 

In Sarimanok, one of Marawi City’s evacuation sites, Imam Omar Tindugan Shariff, 65, who serves as spiritual leader in the community, told Arab News that “life is hard, but we’re OK somehow because we get to receive help from well-meaning people, especially fellow Muslims.”

Holding his three-year-old grandson as he stood outside his tent, Shariff said the community also received help from the government and different aid organizations.

Most of the help came in the form of food and other items, but sometimes cash assistance was also offered.

“It’s not enough, but it helps us survive and so we are still thankful for that,” he said.

Shariff and his family moved to the tent city in April last year after spending several months with relatives who took them in after the conflict forced them to to flee their home. Eleven members of the Shariff family, including his grandson Abdul Ryan, share the small tent.

“This is the second year we are spending Ramadan here (at the tent city). Before the siege, we always had a beautiful celebration for Ramadan. Now we only have an improvised mosque, it’s a tent with tarpaulins,” Shariff said, adding that food for iftar is also donated by various organizations.

“On days when when there are no food donations, we prepare on our own, usually just rice and sardines,” he said. 

Shariff admits there are times when he asks God: “Why did this happen to us?”

“But I know this is just a test of faith for us. If you’re a true Muslim, Allah will sometimes let you face challenges. At first, you will face hurdles and if you are able to overcome them, Allah will reward you.”

Shariff said he still hopes that through the grace of Allah, a better life awaits the evacuees. 

FASTFACT

More than 44,000 families were forced to flee in 2017 when Marawi City was attacked by Daesh-inspired terrorists. Two years after the city’s liberation, many are still waiting to return home.

“It never crossed my mind to turn my back on my faith, even if those who did this to us claim to do it in the name of Islam,” he said. 

“We lost our house. It was burned down at the height of the fighting. And right now I don’t have enough money to send my daughter to school. So she has stopped attending school for two years now. She is in her second year in college.”

Amid their hardships, Shariff said his faith “is what helps me survive.”

Asked about his thoughts on the terrorists who attacked their city, he replied: “Those who did this to us, the Maute group, what they did is un-Islamic. Muslims are for peace, there’s no rich or poor, we are all equal — that’s the real Muslim. I don’t believe in what Daesh say they are fighting for.”

During the holy month, Shariff said his prayers are for the government to allow the Marawi City evacuees to return home.

Mansawi Hadinonamen and his family were also displaced during the siege. But unlike Shariff, they have already moved to temporary shelters in Sabonsongan, where living conditions are better than in the tent cities.

Hadinonamen’s family lost everything in the war. But still he is grateful they are alive. He also looks forward to rebuilding their house when the government allows them to return.

Asked what Ramadan means to his family in their current situation, he replied that it is a time to reflect and show that they remain strong in their faith. 

“The war has taken everything from us — our house, our belongings — but not our faith,” he said.

Another resident, Khalid, said fasting has become a daily recourse for many evacuees. Food donations are not enough. 

“There are no regular food donations and we don’t have enough money to buy food. Some areas also lack water, so people are forced to use rainwater that is not safe for drinking,” he said.

Meanwhile, Marawi Mayor Majul Gandamra declared that the city is now “on its way to being well.”

However, the rehabilitation process has yet to be completed, and Gandamra urged people to put more emphasis on social healing. 

“Peace starts with us. Peace must be realized,” he said during the culmination of the Week of Peace Festival to commemorate the Marawi siege.


Villagers angry as Portugal wildfire still rages

A villager tries to extinguish a wildfire at the village of Chaveira, near Macao, in central Portugal on Monday, July 22, 2019. (AP)
Updated 41 min 32 sec ago
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Villagers angry as Portugal wildfire still rages

  • By evening, the fire was only 70% under control because of the strong winds and high temperatures, Civil Protection commander Pedro Nunes said, adding there were currently no homes or villages at risk

VILA DE REI/MACAO, Portugal: After more than 50 hours, firefighters were still battling a wildfire in central Portugal late on Monday, as villagers and local authorities blamed a lack of resources and government inaction for the damage caused by the flames.
So far, 39 people had been injured, including one who was in serious condition. Portugal’s Civil Protection department said some villagers had been evacuated as a precaution and houses had been destroyed.
The fire was small in comparison with a massive blaze that hit the same region in June 2017, killing 64 people and burning about 55,000 hectares (136,000 acres) in a few days. That was the worst disaster in modern Portuguese history.
Data from the European Union fire-mapping service showed about 8,500 hectares (21,000 acres) burned over the weekend.
Civil Protection said earlier on Monday that the fire, which broke out on Saturday afternoon, was 90% under control, but warned that the remaining blazes required “a lot of attention” as the winds whipped up later in the day, fanning the flames in tinder-dry conditions.
By evening, the fire was only 70% under control because of the strong winds and high temperatures, Civil Protection commander Pedro Nunes said, adding there were currently no homes or villages at risk.
“The worst-case scenario happened,” said Nunes. He said firefighters would adopt techniques overnight to put out the flames, including using four bulldozers provided by the armed forces.
Even though humidity is expected to remain low, the wind is set to lose strength in the early hours of Tuesday, which could help firefighters end the wildfire, Nunes added.
Covered in eucalyptus and pine trees, central Portugal is frequently hit by summer blazes, with hilly terrain making it especially difficult for firefighters to reach.

’THERE WAS NO ONE’
Villagers, as well as authorities in Macao and Vila de Rei, areas in the heart of the fire zone, said there were not enough firefighters and resources to combat the flames.
Sheep farmer Joaquim Ribeiro told Reuters there were no firefighters when the blaze arrived at his village in Macao, forcing him to transfer his animals elsewhere. “It was pandemonium.”
Another sheep farmer, Fernando Cardoso, said he rushed to a nearby fire station as the flames approached his village but the firefighters told him they could not help until given the green light.
“The fire appeared out of nowhere,” he said. “When we got here, there were flames everywhere, no place to turn, no firefighters, there was no one.”
Local authorities have also pointed the finger at Portugal’s Socialist government, led by Prime Minister Antonio Costa.
Speaking to Lusa news agency, the deputy mayor of Vila de Rei, Paulo Cesar, accused the government of not being able to prevent wildfires.
“The municipality is fed up with these successive fires linked to criminal activity and is fed up of seeing the state fail again,” he said.
Asked by reporters about the complaints, Costa said the mayors were “primarily responsible” for protecting their own municipalities from wildfires through “proper management of their territory.”
Internal Administration Minister Eduardo Cabrita said police had opened an investigation into the fires. Portugal’s judiciary police have collected evidence and artifacts that could be related to the fires’ origin, an official told Lusa news agency.
In a statement, police said a 55-year-old man was detained on suspicion of starting a blaze in the Portuguese district of Castelo Branco. But a police source, quoted by Portuguese newspaper Observador, said the detention was not related to the fires in question.
The police did not reply to a Reuters request for comment.
Civil Protection said 1,079 firefighters were on the ground, backed up by 347 firefighting vehicles.
Spain said late on Monday that it was sending two aircraft to help tackle the fires in Portugal.