The plight of war-torn Syrian asylum seekers is far from over even after risking their lives and leaving their country.
It has been over five years since the beginning of the conflict in the Middle Eastern country that forced over 5 million people to flee their homeland. Of those who escaped, over a million found shelter in the neighboring country of Lebanon. Unfortunately, it seems that despite everything, their hardships are just getting worse.
A new research study, conducted by the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University in the United Kingdom, sheds light on a frightening trend on the rise among Syrian refugees.
Abject poverty has given rise to child slavery, prostitution and “survival sex,” according to the report. Young boys and girls work in farmlands and sweatshops where their masters regularly beat and abuse them. Those who choose not to work under such conditions are instead forced into prostitution.
Parents are also selling teenage girls to older, wealthier men under the pretense of arranged (read: child) marriages, while adult women are pressured into having relationships with their employers in order to maintain their jobs — no matter how bad the pay or how unbearable the conditions.
“Syrian refugee women are coerced into providing sexual favors in return for rent, food or employment,” claimed the study. “The perpetrator is commonly the woman's landlord who might broker a deal himself or be the recipient… and such deals may involve the exploitation of children.”
The study blames the terrible situation on United Nation’s lack of funding and Lebanon’s ill-conceived refugee policies.
“It isn't a matter of should we let refugees work or not,” explained report co-author Leena Ksaifi. “It's a matter of how we want to view and frame the Syrian refugee crisis — whether it is a humanitarian crisis or just a security threat. If we look at it as a humanitarian crisis, then we need the government to institute policies that are sustainable and have long-term objectives.”
She added that the Lebanese government should be aware of the policies that can subsequently increase slavery. She also asked for cooperation between the U.N. agencies and local NGOs to gather data and monitor the abuse.
“The majority of women in prostitution in the country are Syrian, and this proportion has risen since the Syrian conflict sent hundreds of thousands over the border,” said Skye Wheeler of Human Rights Watch. “We did hear accounts of Syrian women in survival sex, and also we have documented cases where women are being exploited sexually by landlords or other Lebanese men who hold power over them because of their problems with residency.”
Meanwhile, the U.N. itself seems to be in denial about the whole situation. It has played down the prostitution but has admitted the extent of child slavery. Moreover, U.N. officials claim that these problems persist because the Lebanese government would not allow adult Syrians to work — which is largely true.
The victims of these atrocities are mostly children who have already witnessed more bloodshed and violence than anyone should ever have to see. The trauma of fleeing one’s country coupled with the abuse they face in other countries can have unexplainable effects on a child’s psychology — if they survive this hell, that is.