The other side of the Syrian crisis: Stunning photos from inside Syria's largest refugee camp

Rare photos from inside Za'atari camp capture a thriving entrepreneurial spirit

These stunning photographs show a rare insight into Syria’s largest refugee camp, Za’atari, in Jordan.

In just 18 months the camp’s population has grown from 30,000 to over 130,000, making it the second largest refugee camp in the world after Dadaab in north-east Kenya.

Set in the desolate Jordanian desert, the Za’atari camp has been the subject of a number of negative news reports focussing on its rising levels of crime. Last year, Vice called the camp: “A disturbing reflection of just how bad the civil war in Syria has become.”

But these images taken by photographer Toufic Beyhum show a different side to the refugee camp, capturing its bustling, entrepreneurial spirit.

After entering the camp earlier this year, Beyhum was surprised by the number of small businesses cropping up in Za’atari, and took these photos to document the amount of trading taking place among the Syrian refugees.

At the heart of the camp lies the Champs-Elysées, a mile-long ‘high street’ originally named by French UN workers that boasts 700 shops including hairdressers, cafes, perfumeries, wedding dress shops, phone stalls and a bureau de change.

“The street took me by surprise, I didn’t realise how buzzing it would be,” says Beyhum. “At 7am it would be open and by the afternoon it’s nearly as busy as Oxford Street.”

The entrepreneurial spirit has been passed onto young boys who make money by charging refugees to wheelbarrow their goods  across the camp, or selling used UN blankets and tents.

A young boy sells toffee apples to help make money for his family inside the camp A young boy sells toffee apples to help make money for his family

Rashed, 14, goes outside the camp to buy furniture in neighbouring Jordanian towns to bring back to trade.

“Instead of sitting around playing football all day, the kids are trying to make a living. One young boy I met sells three trays of toffee apples everyday on his own,” says Beyhum.

Refugees whose trade cannot be used inside the camp have had to learn new skills to make money. Former policeman Abdul Mansoor now runs a falafel shop on the Champs-Elysées with the help of his wife who prepares the chickpea mixture.

A Syrian refugee sells mobile phones in his shop on the Champs-Elysee, the camp's central shopping street. Syrians are allowed to leave to buy goods to trade inside the camp but they are not permitted to work in Jordan A Syrian refugee sells mobile phones in his shop on the Champs-Elysées, the camp's central shopping street

Women have also set up their own businesses, offering wedding dresses to rent for 25 Euros a night from shops on the Champse-Elysées.

Rent to run a shop is free, and food, electricity and accommodation are all provided for by the UN, meaning some refugees are making quite a good living, Beyhum says.

Some families who are provided with a free make-shift home sell them on for 500 Euros when they decide to go back to Syria, while other refugees have even set up businesses transporting the temporary homes on trailers around the camp.

Two refugees stare out from the windows of their make-shift home. Syrians are given the temporary structure for free and many sell them on for 500 Euros to other families when they leave to go back home Refugees are given their makeshift homes for free and many sell them on for 500 Euros to other families when they leave to go back to Syria

Although the situation is not ideal, refugees are making the most of what they have, for now.

“The people in the camp are self-sufficient. Just like Damascus, it’s buzzing, everyone is making things right there. They don’t export things that are made from China. That’s the Syrian survival culture.”

See more of Toufic Beyhum's photographs at tbeyhumphotos.com.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015