The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)

A home away from home

This article was published more than two years ago. Some information may no longer be accurate.

Behind the scenes: personal stories from temporary settlements in Jordan and Iraq

While Europe struggles to find homes within its borders for those fleeing violence and persecution, countries closer to Syria are already sheltering millions.

Beyond the devastation, regional neighbours are coming together to shoulder a burden of care; one that goes beyond basic services to offer people a chance of a more purposeful life.

Here are some of their stories.

Za’atari Camp

Located east of the city of Mafraq in northern Jordan, Za’atari Refugee Camp opened in July 2012, and is now home to around 80,000 refugees, many of whom come from Dara’a in south-west Syria.

With nine schools and two more on the way, a large market area and community police, Za’atari residents have a range of services to call on. 


Aisha Fawaz Hariri is 38 years old and from Dara’a. She arrived in Za’atari in 2013 with her husband and three kids. Aisha is now an assistant teacher in the camp, helping to bring in extra income for her family.

"We didn’t want to leave, we stayed because of my husband’s salary, but he was shot. He was running to a shelter from our home. He is now paralyzed in his right hand. He has been without work for three years. We depend on relatives for support, but now I contribute to my own home."

In class, children work on a range of topics.


Many assistant teachers are residents of the camp. After his home was bombed, Mohammed El Saadiin fled Dara’a and arrived in Za’atari in 2013, with his wife and seven children. Mohammed is now an assistant teacher at the boys’ school.

"My town was a security mess, so "I had to leave, everything was destroyed. I would like to emigrate to another country, it’s better for my children. Going back to Syria is not an option.​"

The Hoshan family

Many assistant teachers are residents of the camp. After his home was bombed, Mohammed El Saadiin fled Dara’a and arrived in Za’atari in 2013, with his wife and seven children. Mohammed is now an assistant teacher at the boys’ school.

"We feel better in this camp. I can provide for the family, better than most. But I miss serving the community. I miss serving my country. I am emotional; I miss my job (in Syria)."

Azraq Camp

The world’s largest planned refugee camp, Azraq, began accepting Syrian refugees in April 2014, when Za’atari reached full capacity.   

Located east of Amman, across a 15-kilometre stretch of rocky desert, Azraq is home to more than 50,000 people. Each of the camp’s four villages can house between 10,000 to 15,000 refugees.            

At full capacity, Azraq is able to shelter 130,000 people. 


Security in the camp is provided by the Jordanian authorities. Lieutenant Ruba Mohammed El Abaid has worked as a police officer in Jordan for 18 years. She is now a community police captain in Azraq, where she oversees the female community police presence, and works closely with women refugees in the camp.

"We have built a relationship of trust with the refugees. We are seen as problem solvers, and our daily patrols help them feel secure here in Jordan."

Residents face a range of challenges. Ruba’s job helps to address the concerns of residents, particularly those of women living in Azraq.

"The main cases I see are women and families wanting to apply for voluntary return, wanting intervention for early (childhood) marriage; and worries about children not attending schools."


Isa Hassan has been at Azraq since May 2014. He used to work as used-car dealer in his hometown of Dara’a, but since arriving in the camp has taken on the role as a community leader. He takes pride in his role as mentor and friend to many camp neighbours and extended family members in Azraq.

"If the situation allows for it, I would love to go back to Syria, but we feel safe here. The kids are getting an education, there is security and we have peace."

Harsham Camp

Harsham Camp in Erbil, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, is home to close to 1,500 internally displaced Iraqis, most of whom fled from Mosul in 2014.


Samir Saleh has been at Harsham since 2014. He came with his wife and five children from a village just outside Mosul, where he used to work as a stone mason.

"I haven’t worked in two years and I would love to go back home, but it is safer here. There is only one thing I want for my kids right now – education. I am happy that my kids are able to attend school here."

In Harsham, solar lighting has been installed throughout the camp, as well as mobile charging devices that serve as individual light sources for each family.

"They [my children] feel safe here too because of the solar lights. My wife used to step on snakes outside in the dark, but now she can go outside without fear."

Who does what? 

This article covers a number of different initiatives. All individuals detailed who have found work have been supported by cash-for-work programmes with UN agencies and NGO's. Below are some of those helping.

Za'atari and Azraq camps in Jordan

Camp management: Government of Jordan and UNHCR

Camp security: Government of Jordan/Syrian Refugee Affairs Directorate (SRAD)

Cash-for-work programmes: UN agencies and NGOs (including UNOPS)

Other supporting partners include:

Za'atari - SRAD, ACTED, Bab Al Amood, CBM, FCA, FPSC, Handicap International, ICRC, IMC, IOM, IRC, IRD, JEN, JHAS, KSA, LWF, MDM, Mercy Corps, Nour Hussein Foundation, NRC, Oxfam, Qatar Red Crescent, Questscope, Relief International, Royal Police, SC International, SC Jordan, UN WOMEN, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNOPS, WFP, WVI.

Azraq - SRAD, Ministry of Public Works and Housing, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, ACF, ACTED, CARE, Finn Church Aid, Handicap International, ICRC, IMC, IOM, IRC, Mercy Corps, NRC, Questscope, REACH, Relief International, Save the Children, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNOPS, WFP and World Vision.

Harsham IDP Camp in Iraqi Kurdistan

Camp management: ACTED

Solar lighting: UNOPS, in support of the Governments of Canada and Japan

Other supporting partners include:

Erbil Refugee Council (ERC), ACTED, Barzani Charitable Foundation, CFS, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNHCR, and WFP.

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