(UR) Jordan — Stationed a little over 8 miles from the Syrian border, the second largest refugee camp in the world is turning into an unofficial city. The camp was set up in 2012 to provide temporary shelter for displaced persons, but now hosts around 80,000 Syrians living in caravans, who have since started setting up their own shops and businesses. These range from the more basic needs in grocery stores, food stands, and bakeries, to the more elaborate hairdressing salons and bridal dress rental stores.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 3,000 shops have been set up to date, generating over 10 million Jordanian dinars or 14.2 USD million per month.

“In the Middle East, we were building camps: storage facilities for people. But the refugees were building a city,” Kilian Kleinschmidt, a renowned humanitarian aid worker told Dezeen.

“The average stay today in a camp is 17 years. That’s a generation.” Kleinschmidt continued.

Aside from this, refugees in Zaatari also receive vouchers and monthly allowances from the World Food Programme to help pay their way. But it is not just the prospects of making some extra money that is attractive for the Syrians.

“We get up every morning at 6 o’clock to escape the situation we’re in. We have to work,” one refugee told PBS.

Zooming into European countries like Italy, we see similar yet smaller-scaled glimpses of abandoned villages being revitalised in bustling towns by refugees.

The village of Riace has gone from being a ghost town with high levels of unemployment to a once more booming economy. A quarter of the 1,800 inhabitants in Riace are refugees originating from 20 different countries.

Italians also seem pleased with the way things are going in their town. “It’s good the migrants are here,” one Riace native told NPR. “The town is now full of people. Before, there was nothing, no work.”

It’s time to stop treating refugees as problems to be solved, and start viewing them in terms of the capacities they have to offer, which can be and have been mutually beneficial to host societies.

As Mayor Lucano of Riace told the NPR,

“To those Europeans who fear migrants bring disease, take away their jobs and sense of security, they bring us their culture, their world, their colors and their knowledge.”


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