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A ‘real market’ thrives in Zaatari camp

People use food vouchers and soon will use credit cards to buy what they need, UN says

  • Syrian refugees shop in a hypermarket after receiving their humanitarian aid shopping vouchers at Al Zaatari rImage Credit: REUTERS
  • A man looks at tomatoes displayed for sale by a young street vendor on January 24, 2014 at the Zaatari refugeeImage Credit: AFP
Gulf News

Dubai: It doesn’t seem like a refugee camp, but rather a community with all the basic services. Its market is called The Champs Élysée, where there are hundreds of shops and the amount of money in circulation is mind boggling. The Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in northern Jordan has today two supermarkets, and people use food vouchers and soon will use credit cards to buy what they need, UN officials said.

“Yes, [there is] a lot of money within the camp,” said Killian Kleinschmidt, UNHCR camp coordinator.

The amount of “changing hands every month is about 9 million Jordanian dinars (Dh46.68 million) in terms of people buying and selling.…. we are employing some 3,000 people. So it is a real market in there,” he told Gulf News in an interview.

He was referring to the 3,000 inhabitants in the camp who are hired by various United Nations aid organisations in the camp.

“About 60 per cent of the camp’s inhabitants have some form of income,” Kleinschmidt said explaining that part of the income is coming from outside the camp from remittances sent to them by relatives working abroad.

Zaatari camp, which is located some 10 kilometres east of the northern Jordanian city of Mafraq, was opened on July 2012, to receive thousands of Syrians fleeing the war in their country.

In mid 2013, its population was estimated at 144,000 refugees. However, Kleinschmidt put the population at present at nearly 90,000 people.

The market of the camp is located on the main road inside the camp, and it has many names, including the Champs Élysée because of a French clinic established near the main road.

In the market, there are nearly 2,500 shops selling everything ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables to appliances, birds and cages, said the UN official.

“Forty per cent of the households (in the camp) have television today,” said Kleinschmidt.

Among the business in the camp, is a money exchanger.

“I thought that it might work here because of the currency flow from different countries. Refugees at the camp generally use Syrian Liras but shopkeepers need to buy supplies locally in dinars creating need for exchange,” Abdullah Abu Hayel, owner of the money exchanger was quoted in a report prepared by CNN earlier this month.

The camp’s inhabitants had suffered badly from freezing weather in the past two winters. They also suffered from the searing summer temperatures. However, aid was poured to improve the infrastructure of the camp.

Efforts to replace tents with caravans were exerted, and tint sheets were distrusted to cover heaters used in winter. From the tint sheets the market was built and whoever receives a caravan would sell his tent for 50 Jordanian dinars (Dh259), according to report published last year in the London-based Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper.

Also, some of the aid received by the refugees is either not necessary or came as an excess to their actual needs, such as blankets and tents. Accordingly, they were sold even in the markets of other cities, some Jordanian citizens noticed.

“This is the problem of aid,” said Kleinschmidt. “If we are distributing things in kind, like blankets and food, some of the items they [refugees] don’t need or don’t want. They want something else. So, they sell them. You find this anywhere in the world,” he added.

Because of that, he said, the aid system was reviewed. Food vouchers from the World Food Programme (WFP) were distributed to the Syrian refugees, enabling them to buy whatever they want from the two supermarkets that were opened recently in the camp, SAFEWAY and TAZWEED.

The amount of vouchers, which are issued monthly, is equivalent to $1 (Dh3.6) per person per day.

“Now, they can go shopping,” the UN official said.

Soon, credit cards will be also issued for the refugees, who can also be used at the supermarkets and people can get the food they want and need instead of getting items they don’t need and find themselves selling or exchanging these items.

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