As our friends and supporters will be aware, two years ago on International Women’s Day 2011, we launched
the Karamatuna programme. Our hope was, and still is, that Karamatuna will in some way shine a light on trafficking of women and girls across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
When we launched the programme, we did so out of the great horror and sadness that we felt when slowly uncovering more and more details of young Iraqi girls who had been trafficked and forced into prostitution, or who had been sold as slaves to those who were all too willing to violate the rights and dignity of these young girls.
Today is International Women’s Day 2013 and, two years on, and we are still working with supporters and friends across the region to uncover the depth of this problem; to advocate on behalf of trafficking survivors and to find solutions so that together individuals, grassroots organisations, governments and the international community can put an end to trafficking in the Middle East and North Africa.
The Karamatuna programme, through which we will be releasing new research, reports and toolkits later on in the year, has grown exponentially. What initially begun life as an attempt to investigate the sex-trafficking of Iraqi women into Syria quickly became an investigation into the sex-trafficking of Iraqi women and girls across the region and later, out of the necessity that we saw, it evolved into an investigation into the trafficking of persons of many different countries and nationalities into and within the region. Today, our work is increasingly coloured by the devastating war in Syria.
Last week, news emerged from UNHCR that the number of Syrians either registered as refugees, or waiting to be registered as refugees has now exceeded 1 million. As is common in times of conflict, Syrian refugee women and girls have become particularly vulnerable to gender based violence and abuse; and the troubling stories emerging from the Syrian refugee camps sound all too familiar to those we have heard from Iraqi refugees and those organisations established to protect Iraqis following the 2003 invasion.
To name just one example, in the summer of 2012 news quickly spread of advertisements being posted by men who hoped to find a Syrian bride, as well as of the increasing presence of ‘agents’ operating inside the camps working to find young brides for foreign men. The requests for marriage often offer a price of $130 – $250 (US) and many young girls have been promptly removed from camps in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey. Many of these under-aged girls are believed to have arrived in Saudi Arabia. Those working to provide basic assistance to Syrian refugees who have fled to refugee camps and neighbouring states suggest that occasionally a few of the potential buyers do seem genuinely concerned with ‘saving’ these young Syrian girls from a troubled life inside the camps. Those in the field believe that the majority, however, do appear to be taking the opportunity to arrange an (often unofficial and even temporary ‘muta’a’) marriage with an under-aged, and particularly vulnerable, child.
While we are working to unravel the full story, concrete information is so far hard to come by. Figures from late last year suggested that in excess of 500 children had left the refugee camps to enter into marriages.
Upholding human rights and recognising that promoting the rights of women and girls is central to this mission is always at the heart of our work. We offer our sincere gratitude for your support and interest in our work and Karamatuna over the past years, and pledge to continue expanding our programmes to allow us to address the very real problem of trafficking and gender-based violence to which so many refugees and migrants from, into and across the Middle Eastern region are sadly subjected.
To download our preliminary investigation into the sex trafficking of Iraqi women and girls, click here
. If you have skills, knowledge or time that you would like to donate to the Karamatuna programme and would like to become involved in supporting our work, we would love to hear from you! Drop us an email