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Zaatari, the first camp, was built quickly in response to the Syrian refugee crisis and before the UN was able to “get it right” by their lights. The camp was built near a Jordanian town, allowing trade to occur. In addition, the Syrians were able to buy goods at the camp’s UN stores with their UN-issued debit cards and sell those goods to Jordanians for cash. The currency enabled them to create a thriving, monetary-based economy in the camp. All sorts of businesses sprang up: food, hardware, and even wedding dress stores. Over 60% of working-age adults were employed and the community was vibrant and growing.
Unfortunately, freedom led to inequality. Some people got relatively wealthy and some used their wealth to add onto their UN-supplied homes. Naturally, the UN found this unacceptable.
By the time the UN built Azraq, the second camp, they had learned their lessons. Azraq was built in the middle of the desert and was surrounded by armed guards. As a result, no external trade was possible. Employment was around 9% and the camp was made up of drab, identical homes populated by people of identically low wealth.
Strangely, Syrian refugees were desperate to be sent to Zaatari, despite its inequality, rather than to Azraq, the UN’s egalitarian utopia. Silly refugees.Published in