Around 50 companies were represented at the one-day event Wednesday as they scouted for candidates to fill some 1,000 job opportunities, compiling lists of applicants by name, age and qualification.
The EU-funded job fair, a first at the desert camp that houses some 80,000 refugees, comes after the launch in August of the only employment office at Zaatari following a decision by the Jordanian government to grant residents work permits and let them work in larger towns.
For father of four Ahmad, who fled from Daraa in southern Syria just across the border, the project could provide a vital lifeline.
“I’ve been living in this camp for five years and spend most of my time sitting around or sleeping,” the 34-year-old former farmer.
“Living conditions are very hard here and I hope to get a job that will save us from this.”
Ahmad admitted he was “in desperate need of money” as his family struggles to get by on the roughly $30 per person they get each month in credit to spend at the desert camp’s two markets.
In comparison, the monthly salaries for the jobs offered at the fair, also supported by the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and the Jordanian government, rise up to 210 dinars ($300).
Overall, since the launch of the employment office at Zaatari, some 3,000 Syrians have used the facilities to help secure work in the agriculture, industrial and food-processing sectors, organizers said.
The long-term aim is eventually to provide 200,000 job opportunities for the Syrian refugees spread across Jordan, said Andrea Fontana, the EU ambassador to the kingdom, .
According to the UNHCR, more than 650,000 refugees have fled to Jordan since their country’s war erupted in March 2011, while Amman says the actual figure is 1.3 million.
Stefano Severe, the UNHCR representative to Jordan, said both sides stand to benefit.
“I am confident that having an increased number of Syrians entering the labor market will positively impact the local economy and bring stability to refugee families,” he said in a statement.
Dressmaker Sheikha Fadlallah, 54, says the project has become a hot topic in the Zaatari camp, 80km north of the Jordanian capital Amman.
“Everybody here is excited about the idea of finding work,” she said. “I need to get a job to pay to fix my teeth. They’re completely messed up.”
From the employer’s point of view, the tens of thousands of residents in the camp offer a large pool of abilities from which to select candidates.
Yussef Al-Khawalda, an agent with an agricultural firm, said he needed 16 employees for animal care.
“I hope they all find jobs because it’s very sad to see so many people with potential who are just sitting around doing nothing,” said Mahmud Jallal, looking for 30 recruits for his pastry factory.
But many face disappointment.
“I haven’t found a job. I’ve spoken to representatives of three companies, all of who told me I’m old and they’re looking for young people,” said Ihsan Al-Masri, 46.
Masri, a father of seven and former van driver, said he had offered to do “any job, security guard or garbage collector, but in vain.”
Fellow refugee Nassib Mohammed Saleh, at 76, is nostalgic for the pre-war days when he ran his own business back home and had three employees.
“Believe me, all I have left is this dinar,” he said, pulling a coin out of his pocket.