DAMASCUS – Amid reports of kidnapping, rape and torture, Syrian refugees are fleeing the deadly conflict in their country to neighboring states to escape sexual assaults, as the crisis is forcing many women to sell themselves to feed their children.
"After decades of working in war and disaster zones, the IRC knows that women and girls suffer physical and sexual violence in every conflict,” the International Rescue Committee said in a report on its website.
“Syria is no exception.”
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The report, entitled “Syria: a regional crisis”, cited sexual assault as a primary reason behind the fleeing of many Syrians from their country.
“Many women and girls relayed accounts of being attacked in public or in their homes, primarily by armed men,” the report said.
“These rapes, sometimes by multiple perpetrators, often occur in front of family members.”
The IRC said many Syrians shy away from reporting rape out of fear of the social stigmas of the “dishonor” it brings to women and their families.
“Because of the stigma and social norms around the “dishonor” that rape brings to women and girls and their families, Syrian survivors rarely report rape,” it said.
It said survivors fear retribution by their assailants, being killed by “shamed” family members, or in the case of girls, being married off at an early age “to safeguard their honor.”
"For survivors who manage to flee, there is a shortage of medical and counseling services to help them recover in the communities where they have settled and even there, challenges continue,” it said.
“Many women and girls face unsafe conditions in refugee camps as well as elevated levels of domestic violence."
At least 60,000 people have been killed in more than 21 months of fighting between President Bashar Al-Assad’s security forces and the opposition.
The UN has predicted the number of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries will double to 1.1 million by June if the civil war does not end by then.
The report said that the bloody conflict in Syria is unfolding a humanitarian disaster in the region.
“The Middle East is once again facing a human displacement tragedy,” the IRC said.
“Current assistance levels are drastically insufficient to address existing needs, let alone the barest requirements to respond to a lengthy humanitarian emergency and post-conflict recovery.”
The report said multiple refugee families crowd into small rented rooms and apartments in disrepair or schools and other spaces provided by host governments.
“Others squat in unused spaces in poor districts that lack the capacity to assist them,” it said.
“Many refugees arrive with war wounds and illnesses, yet struggle to access health care. Most flee with few belongings and little money, have seen their finances dwindle and can no longer afford food, clothing and other basics.
The report warned that many desperate Syrian women find no other source but to sell their bodies for food.
“The IRC heard accounts of desperate women trading sex for food, children being forced to work in exploitative or dangerous jobs and families selling girls into early marriage to reduce household numbers or pay rent.”
The IRC appealed to the international community to double efforts to alleviate the suffering of Syrian refugees.“Donors need to step up, recognize the severity of the humanitarian crisis in and around Syria and face the virtual inevitability that this is going to get much worse and last much longer than initially anticipated,” said Sir John Holmes, commission member, Co-Chair of the IRC-UK Board of Trustees and director of the Ditchley Foundation.
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