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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. Her father, sporting a salt-and-pepper beard and a traditional red-checkered headscarf, sits outside under the scorching sun, watching silently. 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.
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 , of the refugees are in Jordan, which recorded about 50, 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 , 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.
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.