Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan’s Mafraq govenorate opened in July 2012 to host Syrian refugees fleeing Syria’s ongoing civil war. The camp’s first year was particularly brutal as it was grossly under equipped to provide services for the camp’s constantly increasing number of residents. The camp, which has a capacity of 60,000 people, hit its peak with more than 150,000 residents in March 2013. However, since then, many Syrians have left the camp to settle in host Jordanian communities.
Against the will of the UNHCR, the refugees have altered the camp to be reminiscent of their lives left behind in Syria. They rearranged the pre-fabricated housing initially laid out in clean cut rows into clusters of extended families around a central “courtyard.” Although it is against UNHCR regulation and Jordanian law for refugees to work, entrepreneurs have setup all sorts of shops in what is known as the camp’s Champs-Élysées. A dramatic shift away from the traditional in-kind food assistance of refugee camps, refugees now receive pre-charged debit cards credited from the World Food Program that they can use at the camp’s two main supermarkets, Safeway or Tazweed.