MAFRAQ, Jo. – Spanning over 67,710 square miles, the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan is home to an estimated eighty-three thousand refugees, many of whom fled neighboring Syria with their families to escape a bloody civil war between the Assad regime and rebel forces that has engulfed the country since the spring of 2011. Having first opened on July 28, 2012, Zaatari is quickly becoming a permanent fixture in the barren Jordanian desert.
Managed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Zaatari has seen a high influx of refugees in the last year as the Assad regime struggles to wrestle control of Syria from both the hands of the Islamic State and U.S.-backed rebel forces.
Many non-profit organizations including Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF, a UN program which provides educational and social services to the nearly 60,000 displaced children living in Zaatari, are dispersed throughout the camp. In addition, a number of relief agencies, including the International Rescue Committee, operate several women’s centers within Zaatari.
Now Starbucks, an American coffee company, has decided to open five for-profit locations in the Zaatari refugee camp. “The Syrian people deserve access to freshly brewed coffee,” said Howard Schultz, the company’s chairman and CEO.
Real News Right Now’s R. Hobbus, J.D. traveled to Jordan last week to tour the Zaatari refugee camp and met with Topher Ambrose, the head barista at Starbucks’ Al Souq Street location. Ambrose, who holds a bachelor’s degree in English, said most refugees can’t afford to shell out two Jordanian dinars for a grande latte. “But they come anyway,” Ambrose said, adding, “It’s so inspiring.”
Adad Boutros, a sixty-two year-old Syrian who was forced by Assad’s forces to watch as they executed his wife and two daughters -aged 9 and 13, in the street outside of their house, said he’s visited Starbucks everyday since its opening, often standing in line for up to seven hours for a simple espresso. “I wake up at 3:30 a.m. so I may have my coffee before noon,” he said.
Topher Ambrose blamed Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for the ‘lengthy wait times,’ saying, “He’s the reason these refugees are here in the first place.” Ambrose added he has a personal message of hope for the Syrian people. “It’s something I tell every refugee as I hand them their coffee. Whether it’s an iced soy latte or a green tea Frappuccino,” Ambrose said, “I say, ‘Live long and prosper, my friend.'”