Over 847,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey since the Syrian civil war started three years ago. The number grew in the last few months when the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) invaded border towns. Instead of providing help, some Turkish men are using these vulnerable females for forced marriages or prostitution.
These Turkish “customers” target “young widows or divorcées who have no strong social or family networks.” The women are used for sex or forced marriages, similar to how Islamic State men treat their female prisoners. Male relatives desperate for money will use their female relatives to make ends meet.
The Christian Science Monitor reported the story of one woman, Samaa, who lives in a rundown hotel with her family. She turned to sex work to provide for her family. Her husband knows about her “job” but chooses to look the other away because the family needs money.
“If a Syrian woman asks for help – whether it is money, work, or a place to rent – there is immediately a request for something in return, something that is haram [sinful],” she said. “A restaurant owner told me he would employ my children on the condition that I sleep with him one night.”
It worked. Her two sons now work in the restaurant. She “works” out of the hotel room while her husband and children are at their jobs. The Monitor notes that a pimp “directs potential customers to her room.” She is working, even though she has a urinary tract infection.
This targeting and abuse of refugees have been staples of the story of Syria’s civil war, which started over three years ago, as one woman’s story shows. In 2012, Umm Abdu moved to Antakya because a man named Abu Khalil promised her a life of comfort, including a decent Muslim husband. The marriage lasted only four months.
“He lied to me properly,” says Umm Abdu. “If we had registered our marriage, I would have had residency and health care. I have nothing.”
The man belongs to a mafia ring that includes Turkish and Syrian men. These matchmakers still try to lure Abdu into a marriage, but she pushes back, especially since they are interested in her 12-year-old daughter.
“I thought to myself, how is it possible that someone old enough to be my father is asking for my hand?” said her daughter. “He has no hair! In our area, in Syria, it was normal for girls to marry at 13 or 14. But it would be someone from a reasonable age group, not older than 25.”
Syrian men often help Turkish customers. A man only known as Maher told the Monitor about the business, but he denies being a “matchmaker.”
“Girls between the ages of 12 and 16 are referred to as pistachios, 17 to 20 are called cherries, 20 to 22 are apples, anyone older is a watermelon,” he said.
The state offers no protection for these women if the marriage fails, in the event that they are the man’s second wife. Alajali is a man who boasts about his position in this business, but he admits that over “ninety percent of the women who marry like this are victims of injustice.” Many end up on the streets.
Journalist Nagehan Alçi visited a refugee camp in Diyarbakir, Turkey, which included 1,700 children. The majority of the people lived in tents, but winter is approaching, and a tent will not supply sufficient protection from the cold. Turkey’s Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker did not even visit the camps until Alçi confronted him.