Region | Syria

Desperate Syrian women in Jordan turn to prostitution

With the flow of refugees into neighbouring Jordan sharply increasing, so is their desperation

  • AP
  • Published: 13:16 March 10, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: AFP
  • The Zaatari camp in Jordan is home to 120,000 Syrian refugees, some of whom have turned to prostitution.
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Zaatari, Jordan: Walk among the plastic tents in one corner of this sprawling, dust-swept desert camp packed with Syrian refugees, and a young woman in a white headscarf signals.

“Come in, you’ll have a good time,” suggests Nada, 19, who escaped from the southern border town of Daraa into Jordan several months ago. Her father, sporting a salt-and-pepper beard and a traditional red-checkered headscarf, sits outside under the scorching sun, watching silently.

Nada prices her body at $7 (Dh25.71), negotiable. Her daily income averages $70 a day.

Several tents away, a clean-shaven, tattooed young Syrian man, who says he was a barber back in the city of Idlib, offers his wife.

“You can have her all day for $70,” he promises. He says he never imagined he would be selling his own wife, but he needs to send money back to his parents and in-laws in Syria, about $200 a month.

As the flow of Syrian refugees into neighbouring Jordan is sharply increasing, so is their desperation. With Syria torn apart by civil war and its economy deeply damaged, the total number of people who have fled and are seeking aid has now passed a million, the United Nations said this week. More than 418,000 of the refugees are in Jordan, which recorded about 50,000 new arrivals in February alone, the highest influx to date.

Scores of the Syrian women who escaped to Jordan are turning to prostitution, some forced or sold into it, even by their families. Some women refugees are highly vulnerable to exploitation by pimps or traffickers, particularly since a significant number fled without their husbands — sometimes with their children — and have little or no source of income.

Particularly sensitive are the charges of prostitution within the Zaatari camp, housing some 120,000 refugees, which is funded by the UN and hosted by Jordan, a largely conservative Muslim nation. The camp gives refugees tents or pre-fab shelters and rationed supplies of staple foods, but conditions in the desert are bleak and aid money is running short.

“We have seen no evidence of prostitution in the camp, but we have heard rumours of it,” said Andrew Harper, chief of the UN refugee commission in Jordan. “Given the vulnerability of women, the camp’s growing population and the lack of resources, I’m not surprised that some may opt for such actions.”

Residents at the camp complain that the unlit toilets become brothels at night, and aid workers say dozens of babies are born without documentation for their fathers, possibly because of prostitution. Mohammad Abu Zureiq, 50, a camp janitor from Daraa, says along with prostitution, some women at the camp are sold outright.

“My neighbour sold his daughter for $2,000 to a Saudi man his age,” he says.

Jordanian police guard the gates but seldom patrol inside, so there is little risk for prostitutes and clients, sometimes other refugees. It is not clear whether the police themselves patronise the prostitutes or arrange for meetings outside the camp, and about 300 refugees rioted two weeks ago over rumours that Jordanian guards had sexually harassed women refugees. Jordanian police did not respond to written and verbal AP requests for comment.

Gassan Jamous, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army in northern Jordan, acknowledges there is prostitution at the camp, as in any city with a large population, but says it is not widespread. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the belief still runs strong that prostitution is a woman’s choice, even under dire circumstances.

“I insist that the Syrian women in Zaatari and elsewhere are practising prostitution because they like it or got used to it, not for money, or for the sake of their poor families,” Jamous says.

Sammar, a 24-year-old from the Syrian capital of Damascus, tells a different story.

She was laid off from her work at a clothing shop because of dwindling business, she says, and came to Jordan looking for better opportunities. But she could not find what she calls “a decent job” as a telephone operator, hotel receptionist or waitress.

Now she walks a main city boulevard in the northern Jordanian city of Irbid at sunset with four other Syrian girls to pick up men. The clientele ranges from teenagers on foot to older men in elegant sedans, some with Saudi or other Gulf Arab licence plates, who circle the girls before moving in.

“It’s a dangerous business. I’m risking my life, but what can I do?” laments Sammar, a green-eyed brunette in tight leather pants, a slim white shirt and fake silver jewellery. “My parents are sick and can’t work. I’m the oldest among their seven children and I have to work to send them money back in Syria.”

Among the casualties is an 18-year-old native of Homs, Syria, who arrived in Zaatari camp last summer. Soon after, her father married her for $1,000 to a 22-year-old Jordanian man who frequently visited the camp. The husband then handed her over to a brothel in Irbid, where she is among 20 women pimped out by a man who calls himself Faroun, Arabic for Pharaoh.

Her parents went back to Syria in January, leaving her alone in Jordan.

“Now I have nobody to turn to,” says the tiny, soft-spoken young woman, no more than a girl, who looks away without answering when asked about prostitution. The AP does not name victims of sexual abuse.

Her husband, who identifies himself as Ali, acknowledges cheerfully that he forces her to have sex with him and with others, for money.

“I’ve got nothing to lose,” he says, smiling. “I will eventually divorce her and she’ll end up going home.”

Comments (21)

  1. Added 15:22 March 11, 2013

    of course not. The world who pretend the justice is watching Syrian people die every second with cold blood and relax mood.

    MBF, Cairo, Egypt, Syrian Arab Republic

  2. Added 14:54 March 11, 2013

    Where are people like Thariq Bin Ziyaadh, the commander who led the army from Arabia to Sindh ( Karachi) to prtect a girl.

    Falulur Rahuman, Thiahriya, Sri Lanka

  3. Added 13:35 March 11, 2013

    NGOs are requested to turn their attention upon this area and should build a wide network in short time to provide them the basic necessities of life. May Allah protect us all from this kind of time.

    S.Bhatti, Dubai, Pakistan

  4. Added 13:20 March 11, 2013

    ((Do you think the international community has done enough to help the Syrian people?)) This is a very blind statement! For, the "International Community" is not a single entity. Some of us very strongly oppose & totally reject the ongoing funding of the Rebellion, training them & arming them to continue their war against the (Bashar Al-Asad) Syrian government. ((Is money the best aid they can provide?)) Aid at the time of War will convert into a loan after the war – Aid of this kind is War by other means! More deadly than guns! For, it will be paid back by the health of mothers and their young babies. Just like the Philippines. Just like Libya – as soon as Qaddafi fell, Libya was infected with a loan from the IMF! As soon as Mubarak fell, Egypt was injected with an IMF loan in Billions of dollars! If you can't see what that means then you have a lot of homework to do. The best Aid for the Syrian people is to stop the Rebellion. Stop sending them Guns. Stop sending them Money. Stop sending them Bombs! ((What more can be done to help the refugees and improve camp conditions?)) Demolish the refugee camps and send the Syrians back to their homeland!

    Masoud Al-Habsi, Muscat, Oman

  5. Added 12:54 March 11, 2013

    May Allah save them..

    arianas, dubai, United Arab Emirates

  6. Added 12:27 March 11, 2013

    Allah save them (refugees of syria) and Jordan should help them , not only Jordan all people of the world .

    shah nawaz siddiqi, ranchi, India

  7. Added 11:53 March 11, 2013

    Extremely sorry to hear this, is there someone at UN or some world body where we can contribute to so that these unlucky people can be provided the basic necessities of living in these refugee camps. I am sure many would come forward to provide for them , every one can surely spare something for these unfortunate people who are putting their lives on the line. Lets do something pls.

    Ricky, Dubai ,, India

  8. Added 11:18 March 11, 2013

    Extremely disturbed after reading this. Indeed the west and the super powers of the DEVELOPED COUNTRIES including the NATO, UN and other bodies have failed to act on the actions of an ignorant dictator who has led to such misery for millions of people. Engaging in dialogue will no longer solve issues like the ones faced by the Syrian people, strong words need to be followed by stronger action by the international community. I hope that the common people suffering across the world due to the political, strategic and other subserviant agenda's of a few find reprieve. Only God can help us now.

    Saif, Hyderabad, India

  9. Added 11:05 March 11, 2013

    They Should Be Punished with Jordan Laws. This article made to feel disgusted about people or shall I say the gangs who are taking advantage of the needy and weak Syrian woman. I thought Islam or Muslims religion is a good example for all other religions in terms of kindness and human rights. Syria was the only country that allowed all other Arab States’ people to enter their country without Visa or other formalities. So why other countries like Jordan can’t applied the same? Again let me remind those blood-suckers that their day will come and they will suffer even worse than these poor and weak ladies. In addition, It is the responsibility of the “Jordan people and Government” to protect their country’s reputation and the reputation of Syrian guests. Furthermore, His Highness “King Abdulla” should take a decisive action against these brutal groups, at least for the sake of his daughters, mother and sisters. Also by now one should know the importance, the substance and role of the woman in any society - including the Jordan one.

    Zahra. J. Saleh, SHARJAH, Somalia

  10. Added 11:05 March 11, 2013

    The responsibility falls on Free Syria Army & their supporters. Bravo Free Syrians Army.

    abid, Peshawar, Pakistan

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