Iraqi refugees forced into prostitution

Noura sits in the back seat of the taxi. When she sees an expensive car with a Saudi or Kuwaiti licence plate driving past, she immediately switches on the Bluetooth function of her mobile phone. Then she sits provocatively by the window and when she makes eye contact with the men in the car alongside her, she closes her mouth suggestively around the phone.

The blue light from the screen lights her attractive face and plunging neckline. “If they’re interested, they switch on their Bluetooth too. First we flirt a bit and then we get down to business. I drive with them to a hotel or an apartment,” says the young Iraqi woman.

Noura and her friends call themselves ‘freelancers’. A few evenings a week they go to a club in the outskirts of the Jordanian capital. They wear heavy makeup, tight jeans and skimpy tops and have a couple of vodkas at the start of the evening. Noura explains:

“I need a drink to be able to do this, otherwise I think too much about what I’m doing.”

300 euros a night
In the darkened club, Arab men sit at tables. They drink whisky, eat an hors d’oeuvre, and above all ogle the girls on the dance floor. The Iraqi girls jerk their bodies suggestively, swaying their long black hair in time to the Iraqi music. Some of the girls almost seem to be wearing a mask, their thoughts evidently elsewhere. At the end of the evening the highest bidder gets to take a girl home.

“I make about 300 euros a night. If I do it three times a week I have enough to live on. I can rent a flat, buy food and send money to my family,”

says Noura’s friend Lana.

The heavy scent of her perfume hangs in the air around her. Next to her sit a number of girls in long black abayas. They wear headscarves with gold edgings.

“Men from the Gulf States find that exiting, a woman in a veil in a club like this. It’s handy for the girls too. They’re harder to recognise.”

Perfectly good childhood
As the daughter of a general in the Iraqi army, Noura (28) had a perfectly good childhood. She went to a good school and trained as a teacher. After the war, life went downhill. Her father was fired by the Americans and no one in her family could get a job. “I decided with some girlfriends to go to Iraq, we thought we’d be able get jobs as teachers here,” she says. She didn’t know at the time that for Iraqis it was virtually impossible to find work. Noura:

‘If you’ve had no work and no income for months, if your family has nothing to eat and needs medicine, what do you do as a woman? You sell your body.”

Traditional family
She explains that her family in Baghdad would soon be in serious trouble if stopped sending money. She can hardly bring herself to say that she’s been working as a prostitute for more than a year.

“It’s the government’s fault. America’s fault. Saddam Hussein’s fault,” she says furiously. Her family doesn’t know anything about it. She sends the money to Baghdad and says she’s still working as a teacher.

When a family member comes to visit, she wears a headscarf and a long dress. “I come from a traditional family. If they knew I was doing this, they’d kill me”, she says.

Speaking from Damascus Sybella Wilkes of UNCHR, the UN refugee agency, says:

“Iraqi refugees are caught in a humanitarian crisis and if the worst comes to the worst girls go into prostitution to take care of their families. Unfortunately, that’s what you see in nearly every refugee crisis. I have no idea how many girls are involved. It’s not a normal job. It’s illegal, so it’s impossible to tell how many there are.”

High prices for virgins
Not only in Amman, but also in other Arab cities like Damascus, Dubai and Baghdad itself, an increasing number of Iraqi women find themselves with no other option than to go into the sex industry.

Lana (33) says she knows hundreds of girls in Amman who are working as prostitutes. “Some are really young. High prices are offered for virgins. Men, especially from the Gulf States, are prepared to pay a lot for them,” she says, sitting on the sofa in her rented apartment in Amman. Lana has a scar on her cheek and a love bite on her neck.

She’s divorced, with two children. She’s sent them out of the room, but her 11-year-old daughter is listening with interest to her mother’s story from behind the living room door. “I send money to my family in Baghdad, but I’m working for my children’s future,” she says. She finds it hard that she has to leave her children alone in the house when she goes to work in the evening. “Sometimes I only get home the following afternoon.”

Abuse and pregnancy
Lana says that girls regularly suffer abuse or get pregnant. In that case they have no one to turn to. They’re terrified of the police.

“I prefer to go with a man to an apartment than to a hotel. At hotels there are always police. They regularly raid the clubs too and then a couple of girls are always arrested. You never know what happens to them. Sometimes they’re sent back to Baghdad.

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Iraqi refugees forced into prostitution
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