Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Desperate Refugees Forced Into Prostitution

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.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Considering how strict the Muslims are reported to be, it's hard to believe this is widespread.

Emily Stivers said...

It is most definitely wide spread. The Islamic faith may be strict in many respects, but it allows for cases of extreme need. Anyway, these women really don't have a choice - no other jobs are available, so it's prostitution or starvation for the entire family.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, this is nothing new in warfare. It is almost a standard to be expected. It certainly happened in Nam.

Anonymous said...

The refugee problem concerning overwhelmed public services sounds so similar to our own problem with illegal aliens pouring across ou border.

Emily Stivers said...

Anonymous - just because refugees turning to prostitution is not new doesn't mean it's not a tragic problem we need to do something about.

Anonymous - it may be similar in some ways, but we're talking about straining the public services of a Third World country as opposed to the U.S. I'm afraid the situation is far more dire for Iraqi refugees in Syria than it is for Central American immigrants here.

Geoff Schaefer said...

As I was reading this blog, the fact that "girls [are] pimped by the mother or aunt" struck me in two ways. First, being the most obvious, is the absolute abhorrence this situation evokes. Second, is the absolute need for the commencement of serious economic development. the fact that these women have to "pimp" their own daughters and nieces out just to get by is appalling. Having zero jobs that are even an ounce more preferable than prostitution shines light on a pretty severe problem. To get these women back on their feet and to get the terrible situation in Iraq under control, economic development and infrastructure repair need to become congruent in their importance in the eyes of our law makers.

Emily Stivers said...

Geoff - I too was disturbed by the fact that family members are "pimping" their young girls. The saddest part is, these aren't the kind of monsters who generally deal in child prostitution. They are proud, religious people who have a devastating choice: prostitute the young girl, or let the whole family starve.

What we need is a substantial increase in aid for Iraqi refugees and IDPs, accompanied by a comprehensive strategy for making sure that aid gets these women and girls off the streets and out of brothels masquerading as nightclubs.

susurrus of the thought... said...

Saddam was a heartless and a ruthless dictator that imposed his will on his people. But when he ruthlessly ruled Iraq, this young girl lived dignified with her family. They were able to provide her with food and shelter. She used to have friends. Probably used to smile and play with dolls. Providing basic necessities was achievable in an economically sustainable system.

Today, and many long years after the American interference, she is a refugee in Syria. Syrian law doesn’t permit her or her mother to work. Perhaps this is due to their refugee status. Today, she is selling her body on the streets of Damascus. She is trying to feed her mother and younger brother. I would love to ask Mr. Bush whether he would call this prostitution. Is it?

How is America planning to restore this young girl’s honour? What about years of lost education? Never mind the above, what about her health and mental well-being? George W. Bush is also a heartless and a ruthless leader who is democratically elected by his people. I just wonder, which of the two evils is really worse?

Anonymous said...

the problem is with muslims in the middle east not only bush. why are these so-called muslims the saudi's and others buying sex from these innocent iraqi girls they should be their protectors they should be helping them by donating money.not exploiting them they are scum and a bunch of hypocrites i hope they burn in hell.

Anonymous said...

the problem is with muslims in the middle east not only bush. why are these so-called muslims the saudi's and others buying sex from these innocent iraqi girls they should be their protectors they should be helping them by donating money.not exploiting them they are scum and a bunch of hypocrites i hope they burn in hell.

 
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