I never imagined that a refugee camp would have its own supermarket. But that was before I went to Azraq in Jordan.
As we entered the camp supermarket today, we were met by the smell of deep-fried pastries. The market’s bakery was busy serving a long line of customers. It was bulging with fresh fruits: green apples, ripe yellow lemons and juicy oranges. Fresh meat lay on the counters. In the cash line, people were lining up in long queues, waiting to pay for their food. The busy atmosphere was just what you’d expect of any supermarket anywhere in the world.
And in charge of it all, a very proud store manager. Ali Ghazal runs the store which is a part of a larger Jordanian food chain. They operate in Azraq refugee camp as a nonprofit operation, offering a range you will find in any other of their stores.
“Syrians are known as the gourmets of the region,” he explains. “It is important that people get to choose the food they want, as opposed to be given a ration of food every week. That has a lot to do with dignity and people taking charge of their own lives. Look here; we have food and even shoes and clothing. And we will be expanding 800 square metres in a short time,” he tells us proudly.
It is the World Food Program (WFP) that makes it possible for refugees to shop in their own camp supermarket. WFP provides the refugees with coupons worth 20 Jordanian dinars (€22.50) per person per month. But the coupons are not like you might think. The value is charged to a card that looks just like a credit card. Every time the refugees shop, the amount is subtracted from the card. So they are themselves responsible for spending the given amount as they please. This way of providing food assistance is the way the WFP is working towards, because it provides the refugees with dignity when they can choose the food they can eat.
But it’s not like the refugees can live in luxury. The given monthly allowance covers just the basics of the food the refugees will need. If they want to buy more expensive foods, or other goods such as clothes, they have to spend their own money. Some refugees do have some cash with them from Syria. Others work in the camp, earning about 300 Jordanian dinars (€340) a month.