The civil war in Syria is entering its third year, having displaced more than 3 million people. Most of these people leave all of their belongings behind, fleeing the country without crucial resources. Refugees find themselves entirely dependent on others, relying on the UN Refugee Agency, foreign governments, and other aid organizations to survive without employment or permanent housing.
While the prospects in refugee camps may seem bleak, some Syrian refugees have managed to attain financial independence by utilizing particular skills. Diar*, a young man who arrived at Iraq’s Domiz Camp last July, opened a tailor shop that served refugees and the surrounding community. He ran his own tailor shop for years in Damascus, helping his younger siblings go to school with his income.
When two explosions forced him to leave Syria and abandon his shop, Diar decided to bring his pressing machine with him in case he could use it as a source of income.
As one of more than 90,000 Syrian refugees living in the Kurdish region of Iraq and 31,000 living in Domiz alone, Diar recognized a potential market and used his family’s small camp space to create a new tailor shop.
With upfront help from the UNHCR, which provided him with the initial electricity and space to operate his business, Diar has managed to gain a loyal following. His customers laud his shop for its “quality and better service,” claiming that Diar has better prices than do businesses outside of the camp. Diar has also gained customers native to the region because of his competitive prices and good service.
Diar’s tailor shop may seem like an anomaly within the atmosphere of a refugee camp, but he is one of many business owners who have contributed to the camp economy in Domiz. Small-scale businesses are helping to reduce the demands on aid organizations by providing services for affordable prices. The businesses also help ensure that refugees do not lose their sense of autonomy after being forced from their own country.
While it is costly for the UNHCR to administer refugee camps, entrepreneurs are lessening the burden, using the help they receive from aid organizations to give back to their new communities.
* Name has been changed.
– Katie Bandera