SHAFAQNA – As Greece prepares to implement the controversial EU-Turkey refugee deal, girls are falling prey to human traffickers on an unprecedented scale.
The European Union and Turkey have treated Syrian refugees so terribly that they have found themselves in such a desperate situation which has made them easy prey to human traffickers who trick them into selling their children for as low as US$700, according to a new study released Sunday.
A report by the Gatestone Institute published Sunday reveals the extent to which female Syrian refugees in Turkey — a country the European Union leadership now deems “safe” — have become the victims of human trafficking networks, as many are forced into prostitution, early marriage and child slavery.
The institute quotes a study performed by the orgnization “End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes” (ECPAT) with the title “Status of Action against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: Turkey,” which argues that child slavery in Turkey is the highest in Europe.
A huge reason for Turkey sitting at the top of the pile is due to its significant refugee population, with those fleeing war and persecution and living in poverty most at risk of exploitation.
Young women between the ages of 15 and 20 are most commonly prostituted, but even younger girls are being exploited in various manners.
“Girls between the ages of twelve and sixteen are referred to as pistachios, those between seventeen and twenty are called cherries, twenty to twenty-two are apples, and anyone older is a watermelon,” according to ECPAT.
The report explained how many young asylum seekers disappear from accommodation centres. “It is feared that reports from the U.N.-run Zaatari refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan are equally true for camps in Turkey: aging men from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states take advantage of the Syrian crisis in order to purchase cheap teenage brides,” according to the report.
Secil Erpolat, a lawyer with the Women’s Rights Commission of the Bar Association in Turkey, explained how sexual exploitation results from Syrian girls and young women being forced into prostitution in order to access food and basic amenities.
Syrian refugees are being offered between 20-50 Turkish liras, amounting to an estimated US$7-$18, for their “services.”
The situation is even worse for women who cross the border illegally or have no valid passport. They are often kidnapped by criminal gangs who transport them to towns close to the border, where they are sold as sex slaves. Due to the “undocumented” status of the women, it can be extremely difficult for authorities to track them down, making them highly desirable targets for gangs and traffickers.
But it is not just refugees in Turkey that are being targeted and exploited.
Traffickers also approach Syrian families in their home country, convincing parents that they can provide a better life for their daughters in Turkey.
A poor Syrian family can be paid between US$700-1700 for an eventual “bride,” money that many families desperately need.
Earlier this year, a report from Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, warned that human trafficking is a booming industry, calling it the “fastest growing criminal market in Europe,” with “refugee smuggling” a major source of income.
The agency identified more than 12,000 suspects who are part of gangs involved in smuggling refugees since at least 2015.
According to Eren Keskin, vice-president of the Human Rights Association of Turkey (IHD), prostitution is even happening in refugee camps built by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD).
“There are markets of prostitution in Antep. Those are all state-controlled places. Hundreds of refugees, women and children, are sold to men much older than they are,” said Keskin.
According to Keskin, officials do not allow human rights groups to enter the camps, even though complaints of rape, sexual assault and physical violence have been reported.
Official figures also show that an estimated 85 percent of Syrian refugees live outside camps, forcing them into even more precarious situations and making it extremely difficult for governmental and international agencies to monitor and intervene at the humanitarian level.