'50,000 Iraqi refugees' forced into prostitution

Women and girls, many alarmingly young, who fled the chaos at home are being further betrayed after reaching 'safety' in Syria

It's Monday night in a dingy club on the outskirts of the Syrian capital. Two dozen girls are moving half-heartedly on the dance floor, lit up by flashing disco lights.

They are dessed in tight jeans, low-cut tops and knee-high boots, but the girls' make-up can't disguise the fact that most are in their mid-teens. It's a strange sight in a conservative Muslim country, but this is the sex business, and it's booming as a result of the war in Iraq.

Backstage, the manager sits in his leather chair, doing business. A Saudi client is quoted $500 for one of the girls. Eventually he beats it down to $300. Next door, in a dimly lit room, the next shift of girls arrives, taking off the black all-covering abayasthey wear outside and putting on lipstick and mascara.

To judge from the cars parked outside, the clients come from all over the Gulf region - many are young Saudi men escaping from an even more conservative moral climate. But the Syrian friend who has brought me here tells me that 95 per cent of the girls are Iraqi.

Most are unwilling to talk, but Zahra, an attractive girl with a bare midriff and tattoos, tells me she's 16. She has been working in this club since fleeing to Syria from Baghdad after the war. She doesn't like it, she says, "but what can we do? I hope things get better in Iraq, because I miss it. I want to go back, but I have to look after my sister". Zahra points to a thin, pubescent girl with long black hair, who seems to be dancing quite happily. Aged 13, Nadia started in the club two months ago.

As the girls dance suggestively, allowing their breasts to brush against each other, one winks at a customer. But these girls are not just providing the floor show - they have paid to be here, and they need to pick up a client, or they'll lose money. If successful, they'll earn about $60, equivalent to a month's wages in a factory.

There are more than a million Iraqi refugees in Syria, many are women whose husbands or fathers have been killed. Banned from working legally, they have few options outside the sex trade. No one knows how many end up as prostitutes, but Hana Ibrahim, founder of the Iraqi women's group Women's Will, puts the figure at 50,000.

I met Fatima in a block of flats operating informally as a brothel in Saida Zainab, a run-down area with a large Iraqi population. Millions of Shias go there every year, because of the shrine of the prophet Mohamed's granddaughter. "I came to Syria after my husband was killed, leaving me with two children," Fatima tells me. "My aunt asked me to join her here, and my brothers pressured me to go." She didn't realise the work her aunt did, and she would be forced to take up, until she arrived.

Fatima is in her mid-20s, but campaigners say the number of Iraqi children working as prostitutes is high. Bassam al-Kadi of Syrian Women Observatory says: "Some have been sexually abused in Iraq, but others are being prostituted by fathers and uncles who bring them here under the pretext of protecting them. They are virgins, and they are brought here like an investment and exploited in a very ugly way."

Further viewing: Nihal Hassan and Nima Elbagir's report will appear on 'More4 News' at 8pm tomorrow

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project