Desolation in Refuge for Syrians

Photographer-YasminAlTellawy

Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan

Millions of Syrians have been struggling for survival daily for over 2 years. With no sight to an end of the war in Syria, the struggles continue within Syria and in the surrounding neighbouring countries who have been welcoming those who seek refuge.

Men, women & children are fleeing Syria by the thousands daily, however the life they can be entering is off extreme hardships in their host countries.

Lack of funding is already giving great pressures to the humanitarian agencies assisting the vast amount of people in need. Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt & Iraq have become the new homes to Syrians seeking safety, but safety is not something they are always receiving.

Robbed of their homes, jobs, belongings and loved ones from the war in Syria, predominantly unable to get work in their host countries, not enough help for them & their at times large families, many Syrians are find themselves with no choice but to enter into a path shame selling themselves.

I meet women with young children, who have lost their husbands & other loved ones in the war, who feel they have no choice but to sell their body for money. They have hungry children to feed & higher priced rent than normal to maintain if they are not within a refugee camp and they feel completely alone and terrified.

While prostitution is no stranger to any country or religion, it is becoming much too common within the refugee communities of Syria.

While some women venture into such a path in desperation by personal choice, others are forced into brothels with no escape. Girls I have met in all neighbouring countries share with me their feelings of shame and guilt while in a safe shelter after being rescued from such situations, each has their own tragic story they tell me of how they got to that stage, some girls as young as 12 years old.

One girl I met is 13 years old, her parents died in Syria, she was taken to a neighbouring country for safety. Instead, she found herself thrown into a brothel, her dignity already stripped from great loss in Syria, This girl is also pregnant with the father being one of the clients of the brothel that was more than happy to abuse a child in such a disgraceful conduct. She wishes for death and has attempted suicide on two different occasions. She is in a safe shelter being cared for by the right people assisting her and is recovering as best as someone can given the horrific ordeal she has been through.

Photographer-YasminAlTellawy

One of the wedding & beauty shops in Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan. Life continues as best as possible with marriages a frequent occurrence as they would have been in Syria, and some marrying to feel safer.

Women of Syria are also being bought as brides to men who claim to wish to take them to a better life elsewhere, they use them and disappear. These girls are then left dishonoured, with so much shame when they have done nothing wrong. Syrian women have always been recognised throughout the world for their beauty; men are now finding easy access to these women, and use them with no shame to their actions.

Women can be found begging in the streets where they are in such danger of being kidnapped, raped or murdered, but say they have no choice to try to get money.

Photographer -Yasmin Al Tellawy

This little girl was begging at the side of the road with her mother alone, a road used by truck drivers mainly. Her mother said she had no choice, she had to beg every day to try to pay rent for a place to sleep, her husband was in Syria. This young mother, alone with her child knew the dangers she was facing when I asked her, but she had no choice she said.

I recently attended a wedding of a young Syrian girl who was getting married to a man from the Emirates who was 41 years her senior. Excited at the prospect of getting married & being able to help her struggling family with money barely worth mentioning as the dowry, she weds. Two days after the wedding, her husband had to return to work and would be coming back to get her soon to go back to the Emirates with him. Over a month has passed since the wedding and the groom has not been heard off since. This tragically has become a more common story among the communities of refugees.

Syrian women themselves in some cases, have become pimps for lack of better terms. Arranging marriages for money or running brothels. Generally brothels are run by men and women who have been previously involved in the sex trade who have seen the Syrians as a great way to expand their business.

Photographer-YasminAlTellawy

Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan

Within Syria in certain areas where extremists are feared by Syrians themselves, fighters from foreign countries with associations to terrorist organisations who have been able to gain ground in Syria throughout the war are also taking advantage of these young girls in Syria. Families have told me that these men come to a refugee camp in Syria or an area full of refugees with many girls and pick what girl they want as a bride. Their fathers tell me they know if they dare to say anything these men would not hesitate to kill them.

There are incredible people who are assisting women to find work or education. Many communities have helped them with finding work in local hospitals as a cook, teaching little children, making clothing, and a wide array of other options so that these women to not fall into prostitution. They get salaries for their work and keep their dignity.

Photographer-YasminAlTellawy

Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan

Safety within refugee camps is also greatly overlooked. Corruption continues in host countries with guards of refugee camps accepting payments to allow men to enter the camps at night and abuse the Syrian women, if they are not taking advantage of the women themselves. They are granted access to rape and kidnap girls or both if they choose. Women live in fear within refugee camps with the knowledge of what could happen to them.

Syria is facing the worst humanitarian crisis in history with no end in sight. Millions homeless, countless numbers killed, countless injured lacking assistance, Syrians seem to be entering a life of destitution. While I do not deny there is great work being done by many and commend many organisations for their life changing work, the crisis of Syria is just an overwhelming issue.

The more time I spend within Syria and in neighbouring countries within refugee communities, I see just how wide-spread this issue is. None of this is new to what I have been speaking off since the latter part of 2012.  Having spent a lot more time on these issues within this year especially, I can only see a fast growing rise in this issue. New brothels frequently arising in nearby countries to Syria, with scared young women living in fear within them, more prostitution arising in refugee camps with women as cheap as a few dollars for an hour in some camps. I still am yet to see any organisation truly target these serious crimes and issues to give better protection to the women and children of Syria who are most vulnerable.

Syria : Male Anguish

As it is Father’s day, I wanted to focus on a few issues the Syrian men are facing. While none of this is new, it is just not spoken about as much as I believe it should be.

Photography - Yasmin Al Tellawy - Syria

Syria – Men in Syria laugh and joke together, humour being something Syrians are well-known for.

Today thousands of children are without their father’s. Today thousands of children from Syria are not only without their father’s, but many have been witness to graphic visions of their father’s and loved ones deaths.

While we are all aware many men who have lost their lives to the conflict in Syria have been soldiers, giving their lives to fight for their country, fighting for what they see as protecting their family; there are thousands of men who have lost their lives while trying to just stay alive and not partaking in any activity of the war.

Photographer-Yasmin Al Tellawy  - Syria (3)   Photography - Yasmin Al Tellawy - Syria (1)
Syria – Some of the young men in Syria

Countless numbers of men are currently under arrest in Syria, their fate unknown, suffering horrendous torture that is unspeakable off for the majority of men should they survive. Some men have disclosed details of their ordeals of diminishing humiliation  in prisons in Syria with me, shocking accounts of crimes past any form of comprehension.

When I am with men in Syria, I am yet to hear someone not wish for death instead of being arrested and tortured because they know just how bad it is. As I am sure most of you know, many will always say they keep a bullet for themselves; I even met one man of the Free Syrian Army who shot his best friend as he was being dragged away by a government militia known as the shabiha, telling me that his best friend would have done this for him also – to take your own life, or that of a loved ones just to escape torture is a small glimpse into just how much suffering these men undergo.

Not only are these men tortured to extremes that no-one will comprehend unless they have experienced such a horrendous ordeal, they are subject to sexual violence. This is something that few men will ever speak off feeling such shame, but it is used rather commonly within torture in Syria. While it is no secret that men are subject to such violence, it is just spoken off rarely. Many men in Syria share with me that they even believe that men are raped as much as women in the war if not more.

Men lack the support to deal with such abuses, men are to be seen as strong humans especially in the Middle East so support networks are lacking for men who have suffered such horrific crimes.

Some men have been known to committed suicide since the violence in Syria, mainly due to the fact that they are unable to provide for their wife and children anymore. Unable to help them, unable to find work, unable to protect them.

Men of Syria are extremely determined unlike most cultures, Market Street of Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan being a prime example of the entrepreneurship skills of the Syrian men, however opportunities are lacking.

Photographer-YasminAlTellawy (61) Photographer-YasminAlTellawy (60)
Market street, Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan

The men of Syria are not only subject to severe torture and sexual violence they also bear all the pressures of providing for their families. The young men are also facing pressures for choosing to not fight in Syria. Many men do not wish to fight in Syria, but many are increasing finding a problem with this telling them they should be in Syria fighting for their country.

I remember close to the beginning of the war in Syria being with young men who had joined the Free Syrian Army, watching them as they chanted songs of revolution on their way to frontline battles, but I could see their fear underneath it all, I could see these young men’s worries behind their eyes. Now I meet the same young men, few off whom are still alive, if not severely injured, and they are hardened soldiers, a natural progression of any war of course, but I do wonder what their future shall be if they are lucky enough to stay alive to see the end of the war in Syria; A country steeped in deep history and culture.

Photographer-Yasmin Al Tellawy  - Syria

Syria – Brothers in war. Both suffered serious injuries while fighting for the Free Syrian Army.

The long list of issues facing men, women and children of Syria is ever-increasing.

A generation of children are to grown up without fathers, mothers, and without both parents in many cases. A generation of children who will never know their fathers past tales of war and tragedy.

Syria is a human tragedy. These are human beings, fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, friends, loved ones, people just like you and I in this world. People whom once had lives like you and I, jobs, homes, everything just as you and I can have an opportunity off. Syrians seem to have become numbers, daily figures of death, injured and tragedy. One life is too much to be lost in war, but in Syria there are a minimum of 93,000 (according to official UN numbers) killed, which is most definitely much less than the actual death count to date, never mind those missing, under torture, and of course the millions homeless and having fled the country.

Photographer-Yasmin Al Tellawy  - Syria

Syria – Once a university student, turned Free Syrian Army soldier shot in the neck, now paralysed from the neck down with some movement in one arm only

Talk of weapons, politics and all that is without questions extremely crucial to discuss is pushed to the top of the priority list with humanizing the war in Syria secondary. These are lives that are being destroyed and lost every day. These are lives of human beings, each soul has a name, a story just as important as the other in this world.

Rape in Syria

Rape has always been a dominate weapon in war. Rape in any circumstance is a horrendous, disgusting act; when you add the violence in rape that happens within a war, it brings it to yet another sickening low act that is beyond the imagination. Rape and sexual abuses are committed frequently in Syria, however are highly under reported.

Rape has always held a stigma attached to it of shame in the Middle East and through religion this is heightened. Rape holds a stigma wrongly attached to it worldwide of course. In the Muslim culture at times with rape cases, the victims can often be forced to married their rapist, have their children, and do not have a voice in this matter. They are given a feeling of shame. Rape in war currently from Syria has brought a business of selling these victims as brides, trafficking rings have been set up, a money-making trade has been made out of these victims from Syria.

What I will also point out as many people misunderstand Muslim culture, this is not how every Muslim feels about rape, or deals with the crisis happening with this, like any culture and religion there are the good and bad within it. There are Muslims assisting these victims as much as they can in the right way too.

Rape in Syria is currently happening not only to females, but males also, however, males will never speak about this matter tragically to get the help they require.

Girls suffering from rape; and I do want to emphasise girls are in need of serious help, some cases are even as young as 7 years old (I have personally dealt with one case at this age), with age of cases I have dealt with mostly from Syria are predominately between 11-20 years old. Not only are these girls raped there is a great deal of violence within the rape, many have already witnessed horrific atrocities happening, some have witnessed their own loved ones being killed and are then raped, abused and tortured in highly intrusive sexual manners. Brutality which includes being prodded with a hot rod in their genital region, mice being used are commonly reported as being inserted into these victims, and many other disturbing, and brutal methods of torture are being used to harm these victims.

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Many girls are scared and try to hide it from their own loved ones where possible, they are living with this shameful feeling within themselves. The suffering they have gone through with this horrendous situation, to then in some cases to find they are pregnant at times and are also being sold as brides.
These victims feel worthless, like they are unable to marry, have children, they are feeling like their life is over and in many cases wishing for death to knock upon their door as they can see no life ahead of them. Some organisations are providing what they feel is assistance by selling these girls as brides as a charitable act.

I have two particular cases that are strong in my memory always. One being what I previously touched on briefly in my last blog, and another being a girl so scared from her religion and family, even though I knew her own family would have assisted her, she turned to religion heavily, not allowing any men to see her at all, and covering everything, even her hands if she went out anywhere, her own mother did not wear a headscarf on normal occasions. I was lucky to be able to meet her to assist her in the appropriate way so she no longer had to keep this all in her mind.

We have problems now with trafficking of Syrian girls, some due to them being raped and deemed worthless, some as their families feel they are doing right marrying them off from a life in a refugee camp. There are many reasons for this. There is a major problem of girls being used as prostitutes, girls being dumped when unwanted in certain Arab countries and thrown into brothels. The problems happening currently are out of control and need better assistance from our world to be stopped.

Can you imagine being a child, having watched your family be murdered to then be raped repeatedly & graphically tortured in the most revolting ways imaginable, to then be possibly sold as a bride or used as a prostitute? I am sure you fail to imagine this or connect to this on any level. I remember turning 13 and recalling worrying about whether my school bag would have been cool to fit in with the cool kids, worry about my hair style, running around in fields picking wild raspberries. I am sure most of you have many childhood stories of your ‘worries’. Can you imagine being back in that age and thinking of the graphic rape you have just suffered through, the loved ones you have lost and feeling unable to speak, and then if you possibly do speak, the chances are you will end up in a wealthy Arab state as an extra wife, or used as a prostitute. This is what is happening in many instances right now as you read this.

Rape is now being committed by both sides of the fighting in Syria. It is used as a weapon of war for many reasons. Reasons that I would like to think the majority of us will never be able to adhere to such comprehension. What we need to focus on primarily is getting these victims the help they need, not judging them upon their sect of religion from Syria, or which side may have committed the crime and so forth.

Sadly I personally cannot stop rape crimes being committed in our world, but I do know what we can do as humans who should care for humanity and take the appropriate steps to dealing with rape in war. We can assist these victims in the appropriate manner without judgements of religion, culture or any of the barriers in our world.

If you have been a victim of rape, you are not a person who should hold shame in any way. You need to know you are a beautiful being in our world and have not done anything wrong. You are someone important in our world. You do not deserve to be treated as a victim who should be ashamed. You deserve the right support for what you have had to tragically suffer through. You deserve protection, care to recover mentally and physically, care without judgements.

I have worked with quite a few rape cases from Syria in the past year, my mind cannot comprehend the trauma these girls have suffered for the simple reasons being I do not, and do not ever wish to understand the minds of these sick individuals and groups committing these crimes. I do find it hard to sleep most nights knowing the monstrous acts that have been shared with me by many victims. I can only think constantly, and I hope many of you will agree with me; what is wrong with our world? Why are we allowing these crimes to happen? What more can we do?

I ask you to focus on what is happening in our world. Syria is facing one of the worst crisis in more recent history. There are many issues happening across our world, I ask you to take action, stand up against these matters, make a change, we can all make a change no matter where we are.

We are all doing something wrong in our world if victims of rape in war are being sold as worthless beings. We are all doing something wrong in our world if we are not opening our eyes & hearts to this matter. We are all doing something wrong if we do not take action to make a change.

Rape is only one of many war crimes being committed in Syria of course, but is the most sensitive and is lacking support. We need to focus on the assistance of victims from the crisis in Syria, and this is not being done enough.

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Children are suffering internally from being witness to barbarity without the appropriate treatment for their future, women without support living in fear of sharing what has happened to them, men who have been tortured in such explicit conduct that bury it so deep internally, the list is truly endless, never mind the injured who are not getting the support they need either. There are so many problems not being addressed sufficiently from the crisis of Syria.

There are organisations of course set up to assist with these victims of rape; however, it is proving ineffective for several reasons, and also depending on how you look at the right way of deal with rape may be.

5-10% of the crimes happening in Syria are reported. There is so much more happening that is not being shown, and we need to work together for humanity to show these crimes, assist with these matters and bring help in the right way. I am shocked constantly speaking to people, general citizens in various countries surprised that I am speaking about a war in Syria who say in shock ‘are they still having problems?’

Please take notice of the crisis in our world.

This is the most sensitive topic within the war to deal with; the point is that we can deal with it and it is time we did.

Truth – Peace – Love.