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Syria crisis: The Za'atari women's bazaar

Posted by Alexandra Saieh Policy Officer

8th Oct 2015

The recent arrival of thousands of refugees from Syria to Europe and images of children, men and women risking their lives to seek asylum has reminded the international community of the devastating crisis in Syria that will soon enter its fifth year. In sheer desperation, Syrians are choosing to put their lives at risk to seek safety and provide for their families

Nearly 630,000 Syrian refugees have now fled their homes in Syria   to seek refuge in Jordan, but reliable and legal options to make a living are few and far between.  After several years of conflict, the situation isn't getting any easier. The restrictions on work opportunities are compounded by cuts in humanitarian assistance. Funding to meet the basic needs of Syrians and poor host communities has failed to keep up with the massive need and neighboring countries that have offered refugees safety are buckling under the demand for public services and vital resources like water.

Donate to the Syria Crisis Appeal 

In Jordan, high unemployment rates predate the crisis in Syria, particularly amongst women and younger people. In Za'atari refugee camp, Syrian refugees have few reliable options to provide for their families and movement in and out of the camp is restricted and opportunities inside the camp are limited.

This lack of access to income generating opportunities takes its toll on refugees and on the communities where they live. In most cases, women feel the greatest effects. The conflict in Syria is no exception and the impact that it has on families and relationships between men and women in refugee households is huge. The financial stress on families, combined with uncertainty of the future can lead to increased tension within households.

Oxfam has tried to address these challenges by giving support to a bazaar organized by Syrian refugee women in Za'atari Camp. This year over 180 women came together at an Oxfam community centre to sell their embroidered goods-children's clothing, wall decorations, handbags-to others. The opportunity for these women to sell their handmade products was significant.

The Women's Club and bazaar also provided a space for Syrian refugee women and their neighbours to meet each other, exchange knowledge, and strengthen skills in crafts like embroidery. One woman told me: "I did not know that I was capable of making such beautiful handcrafts. The Women's Club gave me a chance to develop my skills and be creative." The women agreed that any money earned would be split evenly between those who contributed.

Given the protracted nature of the crisis in Syria, traditional humanitarian assistance is not enough. What many Syrian refugees have told me is they don't want to rely on aid, they just want to be self reliant. It's not surprising that initiatives like the Za'atari bazaar pop up even when the people running them face huge barriers. Governments in neighbouring countries need to be supported to make the tough decisions to ease work restrictions on refugees.

The international community's humanitarian response to the Syrian refugee crisis has been inadequate, forcing Syrians to make risky journeys abroad in search for alternative options. Oxfam is calling for urgent and immediate action by the international community to deal with this deepening crisis: to fully fund the aid response-which goes beyond emergency assistance to meet long term needs of refugees and host communities, and to offer refuge to those who have fled the country including through resettlement of a fair share of the refugee population.

The international community needs to think long term about how they can support refugees and vulnerable Jordanians, not only cope, but thrive and live their lives in dignity until Syrians are able to safely return to Syria.


Most children will tell you that puppets are a whole lot of fun. But for Syrian refugee children living in Jordan's Za'atari camp, they're also life-saving. Meet Amal, and find out how puppets are teaching kids who have this escaped violent conflict to protect themselves from disease, too.

Read more

Blog post written by Alexandra Saieh

Policy Officer

More by Alexandra Saieh

Alexandra Saieh