We've been writing about the Iraqi displacement crisis for some time now, telling you how millions of Iraqis have been forced from their homes by violence and are seeking safe havens in Syria, Jordan and the more peaceful areas within Iraq.
What we haven't told you is the high proportion of Iraqi refugees who are female-headed households and unaccompanied women. With Iraqi men being killed off and kidnapped at alarming rates, many women find themselves not only refugees dealing with unimaginable losses, but also seeking work outside the home for the first time in countries with already high unemployment. In Syria alone, thousands of these women are smuggled, tricked or forced into prostitution. Some just have no other means of supporting their families.
Katherine Zoepf's New York Times piece from Tuesday tells the story of Hiba, a 16-year-old Baghdad girl who used to wear a hijab (Islamic head scarf) and pray five times a day in accordance with her devout Islamic faith. Now living outside of Demascus, she supports her elderly parents by dancing, scantily-clad, in a nightclub frequented by Saudis and known for prostitution.
"We Iraqis used to be a proud people," her mother said, watching young Hiba dance with a flailing middle-aged man. "During the war we lost everything. We even lost our honor."
"Sometimes you see whole families living this way, the girls pimped by the mother or aunt," said Mouna Asaad, a Syrian women's rights lawyer. "But prostitution isn't the only problem. Our schools are overcrowded, and the prices of services, food and transportation have all risen. We don't have the proper infrastructure to deal with this. We don't have shelters or health centers that these women can go to."
With more than 1.2 million Iraqis currently living in Syria alone, the Middle East is suffering its worst humanitarian crisis since 1948. The U.S. and other able nations must dedicate more significant funds to resettling tens of thousands of refugees each year, and supporting Iraq’s neighbors and the greater Middle East.
We simply cannot allow tragedies such as Hiba's to continue, and be repeated, indefinitely.