Zataari camp: creativity in adversity

On our third day in Jordan we visited Zaatari, the biggest refugee camp in the Middle East, established in 2012. The camp was built on former olive tree fields and started with only 10 shelters. During the peak of refugee crisis, more than 120,000 people lived here; today 80,000 people have their homes here. The original planned capacity was only 20,000 persons.

Information briefing by UNHCR – by Philipp Knöbl

Our visit started with a short information briefing directly in the UNHCR base camp. The whole camp is divided into 12 districts, recognisable by different themes and colours painted directly on the caravan walls (e.g. space, flowers, fruits) by the refugees themselves. All streets have their own names, chosen by refugees, and all caravans are marked with number.

The camp has its own infrastructure with hospitals and health stations, schools, a Kindergarten, police stations and two big market streets. The biggest market street is called Cham Élysées. (“Cham” is the Arabic word for Damascus, therefore its “cham” not “champs”.) You can find all common shops in these streets; everything you need from top to bottom. We can recommend the restaurant with typical Arabic food, run by the refugees themselves, because during the lunch break we tested the delicious falafels.

Cham Elysee – by Philipp Knöbl
Cham Elysee – by Philipp Knöbl

During our tour, we stopped at an area where the refugees run different projects. We saw workshops where they upcycle different materials to produce new items. For example they sewed clothes and curtains out of old tents. Out of old tent construction material (old metal bars) they produced doors, swings for children and even a rickshaw. They use these projects for education and therapy reasons and everyone profits from the results. We were very impressed by their creativity and the sustainable thoughts behind these projects.

New products from old materials – by Philipp Knöbl
Photo made by Philipp Knöbl

At the viewpoint of the camp, in District 4, we were invited to visit Abuyoussef and his family’s 5m2 home. Abuyoussef fled in 2013 from Daraa, with his wife and two kids, together with his sister and her family. Their trip lasted more than 12 hours. They started in the evening and arrived in Zaatari in the morning. Their caravan is divided into separate areas. One common room, a small kitchen and a toilet (which they got about three months ago).

Abuyoussef and his family – by Philipp Knöbl
Talking with the team – by Philipp Knöbl
Playing baby boy – by Philipp Knöbl

We had the impression that the family is well-adapted to life in the camp and that they are thankful for the infrastructure and service improvements that have happened over the last three years. Abuyoussef’s wife even mentioned that life in the camp somehow reminds her of home, before war began, because here they coincidentally have the same neighbours as in Syria. Abuyoussef’s biggest wish is to spread the message of supporting the refugees in our country and to make people aware of the circumstances they live in.

Photo made by Philipp Knöbl
    Matej Hargas