Home Away From Home: Building Hope At Zaatari Camp

Rifai stands in front of his jewellery shop at Zaatari camp. 

Abdel Sattar Rifai arrived at Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan in mid-2012, following a precarious 12-hour journey by foot from his home city of Dara’a in Syria to the Jordanian borders where he and hundreds of other refugees fled from violence in their hometowns.

Zaatari Camp, Al Mafraq, JORDAN - After spending a night at the borders between Syria and Jordan, Rifai was driven by bus to Zaatari camp, which had just opened its gates to fleeing Syrian refugees.

“There was only one road in the camp when I arrived," Rifai said. “Just one road surrounded by scattered tents and caravans, very different from what we see today.”

Shortly after his arrival, Rifai organized a volunteer group among the camp’s youth to help the most vulnerable refugees such the elderly and the disabled in a number of tasks including setting up tents and fetching water.

Ever since, Rifai witnessed the evolution of the camp from a swathe of arid land with a few tents into an area equipped with schools, supermarkets, playgrounds and busy streets.

Rifai is one of 85,000 Syrian refugees living in Zaatari camp who receive regular food assistance from the World Food Programme thanks to the support of donors like ECHO, Canada, USAID, Kuwait, and the UAE.

Just like many at Zaatari camp, Rifai sees no clear prospect for an imminent solution to the crisis in his home country and has decided he must build hope for himself and those around him.

It was this rationale that prompted him to open the Demashqiya jewellery shop in the camp. Rifai, who hails from a family of jewellery shop owners in his home town of Dara’a, decided that the new shop can offer a more secure alternative to owning cash for camp residents.

“Customers who come to my shop are mainly women and men who are worried that they will be robbed of their cash, and therefore prefer using their savings to buy gold since it is easier to conceal,” he says.

Rifai had immigrated with his family to Venezuela at a young age, but they returned to Syria in 2002. After an unsuccessful short career there, he moved to Turkey, opening another business, this time venturing into the world of geology, offering a smart system for ground water exploration. Unable to meet the financial requirements of the firm, Rifai closed the business and returned to Syria, a mere month before the crisis erupted.

Today, Rifai is finding some comfort and hope for a normal life at Zaatari.  “Whoever wants me will find me here. This is my home now,” he says.