Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, the number of people trying to flee the war-torn country has increased in numbers substantially. Some 4,5 million Syrians have fled to the neighboring countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq.
This chaos as well as deteriorating conditions and human right violation in these countries have formed favorable conditions for traffickers and exploiters to take advantage of displaced refugees.
Currently, there are about 1,5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon while over 74% do not have any legal status. Back in 2018 the Lebanese government has called for the return of refugees back to Syria, and many were forcibly removed.
What is going on in Lebanon?
Lebanon held its first parliamentary elections in 2018. Despite this fact, the government failed to make any progress for protection of human rights and violations persisted: prosecutions for speech, ban on peaceful demonstrations, torture by officials, religion-based laws, child marriage just to name a few.
What does this mean for Syrian refugees in Lebanon?
Deteriorating human rights policies and in Lebanon along with Lebanon’s stiffening residency regulations and difficulty to maintain legal status make it hard for refugees to get access to healthcare, education, and, more importantly, employment. All this opens up Syrians fleeing to Lebanon vulnerable to an increased risk of rights violation, trafficking, and even slavery.
Lebanese government puts more and more pressure on UNHCR for the Syrians to be removed from Lebanon, with thousands of Syrians returning to a war-torn country because Lebanese regime makes it impossible for them to survive.
Most Syrians who fall victim to trafficking and exploitation are the displaced refugees who have already fled Syria. Therefore the vast majority of such violations happen due to the vulnerability of their status in the destination countries. Many of the women end up being escorts in the UAE, Jordan, Lebanon
Stacey Dooley investigated at the border of Turkey and Syria how displaced Syrian women ended up being sex slaves of the ISIS fighters by force or because there was no other way for them to survive. When ISIS took over the city, women were forced to cover head-to-toe, but even that did not prevent many women from falling victims to rape, forced marriage, and even slavery.
Another horrid story comes from the suburbs of the Lebanese town of Jounieh. More than 75 Syrian women were confined in barred dark rooms without ever seeing the daylight. They were sold for a couple of thousands of dollars into sexual slavery after crossing the Lebanese border in hopes to escape the war. Women were then turned into sex workers and forced to have sex with strangers. They were tortured, electrocuted, beaten. The only time they were allowed to leave the place is to get treatment from venereal diseases, abortions and skin problems due to the lack of sunlight.
What needs to be done?
As Stacey Dooley pointed out, a lot of the times we hear these stories on TV or read about it in the article like this one. We know it is bad, but not too many people take action: these numbers have become just statistics.
But consider this: all these refugees are real human beings, and all these atrocities are happening to women and children just hours of flight away from us right now in the 21st century.
The most important action to be taken is ensuring that refugees are provided with adequate resettlement resources, which would give them access to legal status and consequently employment, education, and healthcare. Right now Syrian war refugees are just numbers with no access to basic needs that most of us take for granted:
- Provide refugees with alternative methods of surviving that would not make them feel that they have no choice
- Provide refugees with legal status and employment opportunities regardless of the country they flee the war to
- Provide the funding to local humanitarian programmes
- Have a realistic and safe plan of action to identify and help the refugees that have already been trafficked.