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July 17, 2017

Making the Za’atari refugee camp a community

This month marks the five-year anniversary of the opening of the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. It is home for more than 80,000 children, men and women escaping the ongoing violence in neighboring Syria. Imagine a camp with the population of Scranton, Pennsylvania — that’s how big Za’atari is. It’s a place full of homesickness, but it also brims with ideas and initiative.

Syrian refugees come from all backgrounds. They left behind homes, careers and successful businesses. To Za’atari, they brought with them a wide range of skills, ambitions and a desire to make the best of an unimaginable situation. They are united in their desire for peace and a brighter future.

It’s no surprise that the people in Za’atari created a vibrant community with an entire economic system of its own. The families living in the camp started bakeries, barber shops and even a pizza delivery service.

The camp was hastily built in 2012 to respond to the emergency needs of thousands of Syrians crossing the border into Jordan. Within nine days, the UN Refugee Agency and the Jordanian government set up a place to shelter and protect refugees — initially with tents and, later on, with prefabricated homes.

Za'atari camp moving dwelling


As soon as tents were set up, families recruited young people to move them to locations closer to their friends and relatives. Later, when prefabricated homes replaced tents, innovative Za’atari residents welded together large carts to transport entire houses. Soon a refugee camp became a refugee community.

Letting people choose their neighbors boosted morale and the sense of community — but it created a problem. Za’atari was originally built with a simple grid layout and when residents moved their homes, it blocked certain designated paths for ambulances and other services. A compromise was needed.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, consulted with the residents of Za’atari to come up with a solution where people could still choose where to move, as long as they kept roads and public areas clear.

Dwelling Modification


Residents continue to improve their homes, restructuring and expanding them to fit their needs. You can see the strong Syrian cultural identity expressed across Za’atari as residents add personal touches to homes.

There is no one-size-fits-all way to help refugees. The sense of losing control of one’s life is one of the most intense and disturbing feelings reported by people who have been driven from their homes. With your help, we can continue to listen to refugees and help them regain control over their lives and futures.

Here’s how you can help …

You can help refugees in Za’atari and people forced to flee all over the world by becoming a USA for UNHCR monthly donor. It’s the most convenient, effective and efficient way you can make a lifesaving difference. Make your monthly gift today.


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