NYC mosques are struggling to house and feed the influx of Muslim immigrants this Ramadan


NEW YORK (AP) – Above a bodega New York In the city’s Harlem neighborhood, a mosque congregation hosts iftar for hundreds of hungry migrants every night during the holy month of Ramadan, the end of the traditional Islamic fasting meal.

North of the Bronx, an imam has turned the two-story brick residence that houses his mosque into a temporary shelter for migrants, many of whom were men from his native Senegal.

Islamic institutions in the Big Apple are struggling to meet the needs of the city’s migrant population as the number of asylum seekers from Muslim-majority African countries increases. The challenge has become even more pronounced during Ramadan, which begins on March 11 and ends on April 9.

Many mosques have opened their doors to migrants during daylight hours, becoming de facto daytime centers where newly arrived people can find a quiet place to rest and recuperate, often on the streets or in the subway. After restless nights of sleep.

Muslim leaders say they have increased their appeal for donations of money, food, clothing and other supplies in recent days.

“We are doing what we can, but we can’t do everything. “It’s the ultimate thing,” said Moussa Sanogo, assistant imam at Mosque Aqsa-Salaam in Harlem, just north of Central Park. “These brothers, they don’t eat enough. When they reach here they are dying of hunger. You can imagine? Fastless. In America.”

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Imam Omar Nias, who runs the mosque Jamhiyatu Ansaru-Din in the Bronx, said providing a place to bed down newly arrived migrants is the least he can do, even if it comes at great personal expense.

Her utility bills have long exceeded her ability to pay. He estimates he’s behind about $7,000 on the home’s electric service and an additional $11,000 on water service.

“In our culture, you cannot refuse people coming to the mosque,” ​​he said on a recent Friday when more than 50 people arrived for afternoon prayers. “We keep welcoming people because they have no place to go. If they come, they stay. “We do whatever we can to feed them, to help them.”

More than 185,000 asylum seekers have arrived in New York City since spring 2022 in the latest migrant surge. Africans such as from majority Muslim nations senegalGini and mauritania One of the top nationalities represented in new cases in federal immigration courts in the state.

of new york city Estimated 275 mosques The neighborhoods were one of the first places to feel the impact of the African Wave, as they are often migrants’ first stop when they arrive in the city, said Assefash Makonnen of African Communities Together, a Harlem-based advocacy group that supports African immigrants.

But relying solely on the generosity of faith-based communities – many of which are already struggling to survive – is not sustainable in the long run, he said.

Last summer, Democratic Mayor Eric Adams announced with great fanfare A program aimed at providing funding, security and other support to 75 mosques, churches and synagogues that have agreed to provide overnight shelter to migrants.

However, so far, only six puja houses with about 100 beds each have been approved to provide additional space for the more than 64,000 migrants currently living in the city’s hotels and other shelters.

Bishop Matthew Head of the Episcopal Diocese of New York said the challenge for many faith-based institutions is that they are located in older buildings that do not meet current fire safety standards.

With more “normal” rules, he said, houses of worship are ready to provide 5,000 additional beds for migrants, on top of what the city is currently paying to shelter migrants in hotels in the five boroughs.

“We want to be part of the solution. We were, and we can be now,” Heidt said, referring to a network of faith-based shelters that developed in response to the city’s homelessness crisis in the 1980s.

Adams spokeswoman Kayla Mamelak said the city, in response to concerns, earlier this year reduced the maximum number of beds allowed in faith-based shelters from 19 to 15, meaning they have to be permitted under the city’s building code. Sprinkler system will not be required.

“We are making changes wherever we can,” he said. “Obviously the health and safety of the people we are sheltering must be the priority. “You can’t go into a church and turn it into a shelter.”

In the Bronx, Nias said he hasn’t given much thought to the city’s program. He also stressed that he does not charge rent from migrants, on the contrary illegal, dangerously crowded Migrant boarding houses in the city have closed in recent weeks.

Still, conditions at the mosque are less than ideal.

On a recent visit, the men rested on the floor of a basement prayer room between the day’s five prayers. More people relaxed in the backyard, where a microwave and hot water kettle were installed for basic food preparation, as well as a shed for storing belongings and a row of file shelves for incoming mail. There was a portable toilet near the road covered with a blue tarpaulin, which did little to hide the foul smell that attracted swarms of flies.

Malik Thiam, a Senegalese migrant who has been living at the Nias mosque for about a month, said he is grateful for the hospitality but eager to find his own place.

The 29-year-old man, who arrived in the country in August, said he recently started doing late-night food delivery. He said he usually returns to the mosque as others get up for work early in the morning, which allows him to avoid fights as men compete among themselves over sleeping places.

“Sometimes they would fight, sometimes they would have a lot of problems,” Thiam said, speaking in clear but sometimes broken English as he rested in the mosque’s backyard. “It is not easy to live here. This is difficult. It is very, very difficult.”

Back in Harlem, Alfamacar Diallo is also grateful for the support provided by the Mosque Aqsa-Salaam, but is eager to continue with his life. Like many others who came for Iftar, the 39-year-old migrant from Guinea says he is still waiting for work approval, nearly eight months after arriving in the country.

Until then, the mosque provides a place to keep him warm, fed, and close to the faith that has sustained him.

“Without the mosque,” ​​he said in French through a translator, “I don’t know where I would be.”

Copyright 2024 The associated Press, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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