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Damascus occasional paper; no1 i


									Damascus Occasional Paper; no1

Iraqi Adolescent Girls: Voices to be heard

© UNICEF/SYR 2007/ Gimon

UNICEF Syria Country Office August 2007 Marianne Gimon


My gratitude goes to Ahlam Ahmed for her valuable help in translating and organizing the interviews with Iraqi adolescent girls and other members of the Iraqi community. In addition, I would like to thank Rana Al-Aiouby and Amelia Reese for helping me in my research. Lastly, I thank M. Anis Salem and the UNICEF team for giving me the chance to pursue this work on vulnerable Iraqi adolescent girls.


About the Author:
Marianne Gimon
Marianne Gimon works as an independent consultant specialized in gender and international development. She has recently been working with the UNICEF Syria Country Office on developing protection interventions for vulnerable adolescent Iraqis living in Syria. She previously worked for the Population Council, the Social Science Research Council, the United Nations Development Program and Equilibres et Populations. She taught English in Yantai, China as a Worldteach volunteer. Marianne is a family council member of the Flora Family Foundation, a board member of the Funder's Network for Afghan Women, and a board member of Echoing Green. She earned her Bachelor of Arts at Brown University and her Master's Degree from the School of International and Public Affairs of Columbia University.

© The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 2007 Syria Country Office for the Middle East & North Africa Damascus, East Mazzeh, St.imam shafie ,blg.2

Commentaries represent the personal views of the author and do not necessarily reflect UNICEF positions.


Table of Contents



Executive Summary








Analysis on available assistance to the Iraqi community in Syria






Annex 1- Drawing by an Iraqi girl


Annex 2- Mapping of organizations assisting Iraqi refugees


Annex 3 – Sample questions of focus group discussion



Executive Summary

Iraqi adolescent girls living in Syria are concerned about their future. They are part of the 1.51 million refugees that have arrived in Syria since the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Refugee girls, especially adolescents from the age of 12 to 18 years, are among the most at-risk of all uprooted populations; they can be subjected to abduction, rape, forced marriage, slavery, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation. These risks highlight the need for special programming for Iraqi adolescent girls based on a participatory approach, and a safe environment for their transition to adulthood. This report intends to help UNICEF design a scalable protection intervention for vulnerable adolescent Iraqi girls living in Syria with the input of key UN agencies and partners, as well as the participation of the Iraqi population affected by the crisis. It attempts to communicate the concerns and the stories of a number of Iraqi adolescent girls living in the outskirts of Damascus. The Iraqi adolescent girls living in Syria are looking for opportunities to educate themselves. They are eager to help their families and to contribute to their community. The most effective protection intervention is access to an education without discrimination. The Syrian government has opened its schools to Iraqi children, but UN agencies, donors, and civil society organizations should invest more resources to ensure that Iraqi adolescent girls are registered in school, do not drop out, and give those outside the educational system the opportunity to access vocational training and develop life skills. Furthermore, for those that have suffered from severe exploitation or have been trafficked, there is a serious lack of essential protection, recovery and reintegration services. The Syrian and Iraqi government along with donors, UN agencies and civil society partners need to establish a better coordination mechanism to protect these children and to help them receive appropriate shelter and psychosocial assistance. By international humanitarian standards, UN agencies and partners have a responsibility to help Iraqi refugee girls and members of their community gain a more active participatory role in developing programmes and decisions affecting them. There is a need to collaborate more closely with the Iraqi community living in Syria and to strengthen the capacity of partners capable of implementing programmes for vulnerable adolescent girls. Often youth-friendly programmes are not reaching these girls, and, therefore, resources must be especially allocated to vulnerable Iraqi adolescent girls starting by giving them a space of their own.

Al-Khalidi, Ashraf, Sophia Hoffman, and Victor Tanner, “Iraqi Refugees in the Syrian Arab Republic: A Field-based Snapshot” Brookings Institution and University of Bern, June 2007, p.8.


I. Introduction
What is the one thing that Iraqi adolescent girls have on their mind ? “What will happen to us?” Rana2, 18 years of age, fled to Damascus a year and a half ago with her family after her older brother was killed in Iraq. As soon as Rana arrived in Syria, she tried unsuccessfully to register in school because she did not have documents showing that she had completed her second year of high school in Baghdad. It is impossible for her to get these documents, since her school was bombed and converted into a military base. Like many of her peers, Rana is deeply concerned about her future, and fears that there is no opportunity for her in Syria. She says, “We are nearly going crazy, like prisoners in a large ceil. We have no future, no school, and no center for us. We came here to feel secure, but we are still in danger–– just another kind of danger.” Iraqi adolescent girls are entangled in the world’s largest refugee crisis. They are part of the 2 million refugees that have left Iraq after the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. In Syria alone, there are an estimated 1.5 million refugees3, the majority of which have settled in various outskirts of Damascus (Sayyeda Zaynab, Jaramana, Masaken Barza, Qudsaya, Yarmouk). Among the Iraqi refugees, adolescent girls from the age of 12 to 18 years are most at-risk of abduction, rape, forced marriage, slavery, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation. As females, they are less likely to receive secondary education or gain access to livelihood development opportunities. Families with limited financial resources often give preference to the education of boys rather than girls. In addition, the mobility of girls is restricted and they have no space to claim as their own. They are often considered the property of their family, with little influence on decisions regarding marriage, employment, or other life choices. Despite their distressing and deteriorating environment, the Iraqi adolescent girls living in Syria seek educational opportunities. Many are eager to help their families and to contribute to their community. They understand the value of education, and hope that it will offer them a better future. These girls have many role models in their community, women who had advanced degrees and professional careers before the war. This positive attitude towards education is an important resource that the humanitarian community can tap into in their efforts to register more girls in school. Furthermore, the educated and qualified Iraqis living in Syria can provide an important pool of expertise for health, education and other needed services in the Iraqi community.

All names of the Iraqi girls and other persons interviewed have been changed for confidential reasons. The Arabic names used were chosen at random in order to not reinforce religious or ethnic divides. 3 Al-Khalidi, Ashraf, Sophia Hoffman, and Victor Tanner, “Iraqi Refugees in the Syrian Arab Republic: A Field-based Snapshot” Brookings Institution and University of Bern, June 2007, p.8.



This report intends to help UNICEF design a scalable protection intervention for vulnerable adolescent Iraqi girls living in Syria with the input of key UN agencies and partners, as well as the participation of the Iraqi population affected by the crisis. The terms of reference for this research includes gathering information on current programmes serving Iraqi adolescent girls in Syria; finding case studies on the vulnerability of Iraqi adolescent refugees to sexual violence; consulting with field experts and identifying several best practices in refugee and adolescent programming. This report outlines the findings, and provides an analysis of assistance available to the Iraqi diaspora in Syria. This includes recommendations based on various discussions with girls between the ages of 11 through 184. In addition, there is information about this age group from previous literature and interviews with UN partners, NGOs, community-based workers, parents, and other members of the Iraqi refugee community5. Many girls describe hardships facing the entire Iraqi refugee community; however this report focuses on the special needs of Iraqi adolescent girls.

II. Methodology
The research was carried out in June-August 2007 and is based on i) several focus group discussions with Iraqi adolescent girls between the ages of 12 through 18, and ii) interviews with UN partners and NGOs, as well as community-based workers, parents, Iraqi adolescent boys, and other members of the Iraqi refugee community. Four focus groups were held with Iraqi adolescent girls; age 11-18 living in Sayyeda Zaynab, with a range of three to six girls in each group.6 An Iraqi female with humanitarian work experience was used as a translator for the focus groups, and interviews with members of the Iraqi community. Over 20 meetings were held with UN partners, national and international NGOs, as well as local community-based organizations. One focus group discussion was held with six Palestinian adolescent girls. Lastly, a social worker shared eight case studies of Iraqi girls involved in prostitution and residing in Jaramana, Sayyeda Zaynab and Qudsiya.7 It is important to note that this report is based on qualitative evidence and it is not meant to be a systematic assessment of all Iraqi adolescent girls living in Syria.

Several focus groups and interviews were held with Iraqi adolescent girls age 11-18 with a female Iraqi translator who has valuable experience in humanitarian work and lives in the refugee community. 5 Several focus groups and interviews were held with members of the Iraqi refugee community including boys, parents, and community workers. Approximately 20 meetings were held with UN partners, national and international NGOs as well as local community-based organizations. 6 See Annex 3 for sample questions used in focus group discussions with Iraqi adolescent girls. 7 All names were held for reasons of confidentiality.



III. Findings
Iraqi adolescent girls are keen on continuing their education and need a space to speak out All of the girls interviewed were keen either to continue their studies or to attend training courses to improve their chances of getting a respectable job. They were particularly interested in English and computer classes. Leila, 18, says: “We hear so much about the internet that I would like to learn how to use it”. There is also an interest in nursing. One girl in a juvenile detention center talked about her wish to learn first aid. Reem, 13, would like to go back to Iraq and complete her education there. Otherwise, if she stays in Syria, she would like to enter an Iraqi school. Haifa, 13, says “I want to be educated, learn computer skills, science and English, and have access to the light of education.” When asked about what programmes should be available to Iraqi adolescent girls like them, Zainab, 14, replies, “We need to have something to make us busy when we are not in school. Maybe handicrafts, something to “We need training lessons in occupy us so we are not nervous like our English so we can forget what mothers.” Zainab says that when she has nothing happened to us in Iraq. We have to do, she always thinks about how her sister was so much inside us. We need this killed in Iraq. Many of these girls would like to opportunity to talk and continue their education, but also need a neutral understand what happened to us. space away from family and school to express We’ve been here since 2003, we themselves and to be heard. need this opportunity now!”—14year-old Zainab Education An extraordinarily high number of Iraqi refugee children are currently not registered in school. Based on various reports, between 300,0008 to 525,0009 Iraqi children of school age live in Syria. The Syrian Ministry of Education (MoE) estimates that there are 32,00010 Iraqi children enrolled in Syrian public schools, and an additional 1,000 in private schools. According to these figures, less than 10% of school-age Iraqi refugees enjoy the right to an education. Furthermore, the number of children registered may not clearly indicate the number of children who actually attend school. For example, many families register
UNHCR and UNICEF Joint Appeal, “Providing Education Opportunities to Iraqi children in host countries: a Regional Perspective,” July 27, 2007. 9 Based on the estimate that there are 1.5 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, and the assumption that children from age 5-18 represent 35% of the refugee population. 10 UNHCR and UNICEF Joint Appeal, “Providing Education Opportunities to Iraqi children in host countries: a Regional Perspective,” July 27, 2007.


their children to gain three month visas which can be easily renewed without going to the border. As a result, the number of children registered does not present an accurate picture of school attendance. In response to this great need to register children, UNHCR and UNICEF have recently launched a joint appeal to provide education to Iraqi children in host countries. They plan to bring 100,000 displaced Iraqi children to school from August 2007 to December 2008 by expanding the Syrian educational infrastructure capacity (i.e double shifting of schools, recruitment of additional teachers, and provision of books, supplies and equipment). Interviews with Iraqi adolescent girls and community workers reveal several reasons11 why children and girls in particular, are not registered in school: 1. Financial need- Many girls work to help their families, who cannot afford the costs of supplies, though Syrian government schools are open and free to all Iraqi refugee children. Moreover, a family with limited financial resources places greater emphasis on the education of boys over that of girls12. 2) Lack of documents- The lack of access to official Iraqi documents certifying grade level completed by refugee children presents challenges for continuing education in Syria. In the case of primary schools, children without documents are permitted to take placement exams, however secondary school students face greater restrictions. The current policy in Syria is to allow secondary school children to take an exam13 in order to assess placement for continuing education. However, many students are denied the opportunity to take placement exams. 3) Time element- Due to the persisting violence in Iraq, the flow of refugees into Syria continues throughout the year and invariably disrupts the academic cycle of child refugees. Many children face great difficulty integrating into the Syrian educational system once the academic year has commenced. While many students attempt to catchup, they are often discouraged by the adjustment and frustration posed by lost schooltime, and the challenge of following a different curriculum in addition to the severe distress of being displaced. 4) Safety Precaution- Some families are fearful of their daughters interacting with the Syrian community. In a country where Iraqi refugees are less welcome than before, they do not know how they will be treated. As a safety measure, they prefer to keep them at home. The fear of having their children out of the house may also be a result of the war and the fact that they have had family members kidnapped or killed. Other families

For additional information on the reasons Iraqi families do not send their children to school consult the recent UNHCR and UNICEF Joint appeal launched in July 2007 at 12 Interview with UNHCR staff in Damascus, July, 2007 13 Interview with UNICEF staff, July, 2007.


discourage their daughters from wearing jewelry in public so as not to attract undesired attention. Some families near Sayyeda Zaynab have become stricter with their girls, demanding that they not go out unless wearing a hijab, a practice that was not imposed by their family in Iraq. According to a community aid worker, some of the more religious families living in Sayyeda Zaynab are even more conservative and do not permit girls to attend classes out of distrust of the surrounding community. 5) A Transitional Phase- Many families come to Syria with unrealistic expectations of a rapid resettlement and have little idea of how long they will be in Syria. As a result, many families neglect to integrate girls into both the community and the school system. 6) Overcrowding- The increased number of students is “I don’t attend school placing additional strain on the educational infrastructure, because no school and exacerbating problems of overcrowding. As a result, accepted me. The schools many schools are turning children away due to lack of are already crowded with space. Two years ago, there were 22-25 students per class too many kids—there is no in the area of Sayyeda Zaynab and Jaramana. Now the place for me.” number of students has grown exponentially with 60-70 students per class in these areas where Iraqi communities -12-year-old Salma 14 are concentrated. The maximum standard of students per class in Syria is 40, and the average 23-25. As a result, overcrowding in schools decreases the quality of education both for Iraqi and Syrian students alike in Syria.

There is evidence of discrimination in Syrian schools towards Iraqi refugee students Many girls drop-out of school because they are discouraged by the discrimination they face in Syrian schools. Even adolescent girls who excel in their classes complain that teachers single them out for being Iraqi. Thirteen-year-old Noor, who appeared timid at first, exclaims, “When two Iraqi girls left the school, my teacher said, ‘Thank God we got rid of two Iraqis…we should just change the name of “The manager asked every the school to ‘Iraqi school’’. People make fun of the Iraqi girl in my school to Iraqi girls in school because they are shy. When they stand up and go next to the make jokes about them, the girls feel like hiding from garbage. He said, ‘You are everyone.” Many girls interviewed felt they could Iraqis, you have no rights not receive a proper education because they feel here, go home, you are unwelcome in school. Thirteen-year old Mouna does making our life miserable.’”not like being made fun at in school. She says, “I feel 16-years-old, Alia Syrians hate us. Sometimes I wish the same thing would happen to the Syrians so they would understand what we are going through. But

Interview with a Syrian Family Planning Project Officer, Damascus, August 2007.


then I wonder where would I go?” In addition, they feel that they cannot report these acts of discrimination to anyone, and this silence further disempowers them. Discrimination is a serious matter and further analysis should be done on its impact on drop-out and enrollment rates. If parents perceive discrimination as a threat to their child, they will refrain from registering their children.

Difficulty with the Curriculum
Iraqi children are having difficulty adjusting to the school curriculum in Syria, although they understand the language. Many Iraqi children find the curricula in Syria challenging and as a result, some drop out of school. Amal works in the community of Sayyeda Zaynab and explains, “Iraqi students are having difficulty with geography and history classes because in Iraq they learned about the mountains, the rivers, and the history of their country whereas here the lessons are focused only on Syria. This makes them feel strange and reinforces the fact that they are outsiders. They would like to study something about their country.” In addition, students in Iraq traditionally start learning English at school in the 5th grade whereas in Syria students commence in the 1st grade, meaning that Iraqi students in Syria below 5th grade have a very hard time in English class. Amal states that many young Iraqi students are shocked during their first English classes in Syria because they are not familiar with the new alphabet and are unable to follow what the teacher is saying. Reem, age 13, who has been living in Syria for two years, does not attend school. She says, “I did not register here because I don’t understand the teacher and it is too hard for me.” Special efforts need to be made to draw girls out who fear that the curriculum is too challenging. Lastly, despite the similarity in the Arabic language, there are misunderstandings that come up in class. Twelve-year-old Nuha laughs and tells the story of her cousin who almost passed out in class. Her teacher said: “Everyone stop breathing or else I will hit you!” While the teacher intended for the class to remain silent, her cousin took the teacher’s words literally and became blue in the face until the teacher intervened. Iraqi students are nervous in class about being able to follow their lessons and are painfully conscious about fitting in.

Suffering, despair, isolation
Many Iraqi adolescent girls are scarred by the violence they experienced or saw in their country and need psychosocial assistance. Many Iraqi adolescent girls have had to cope with the violent death or kidnapping of a family member or friend. They are suffering from the loss of loved ones, the abandonment of their home, and the separation from family and friends. They worry constantly about those who remain in Iraq and whether they will be united again. Many come to Syria accompanied by their family with the hope that the family will be resettled 11

in another country and afforded greater opportunities. Now they are coming to terms with the disappointment that they may not be resettled, and have to contend with discrimination as well as economic hardships and social insecurity. Many girls feel isolated and lack outlets to communicate their sadness or frustrations. Zainab, 14, who witnessed the shooting of her father and sister, explains that she cannot talk to her mother about her emotions because Zainab does not want to worry her mother and affect her health. In a state of loneliness and “We can’t help each other if emotional isolation, Zainab disconnects from her we all suffer from the same emotions by watching television. While Zainab problems. We would like to misses Iraq, she realizes that she cannot return. She dress-up, go to picnics, visit says, “Our house has been taken over by militias in places where other people go, Iraq, we have nothing left. My home is destroyed but we have no money. We and I have nothing to go back to.” In addition to just bury ourselves here in losing their homes in Iraq and grieving the loss of Sayyeda Zaynab.” family members, Iraqi girls have also lost their support network of friends and are isolated in their —18-years-old Rana new environment. Faced with mobility restrictions, many girls may only venture outside alone to attend school—if they are permitted to attend school at all. Otherwise, they must be accompanied by a family member or adult family friend. As a result, girls have little if any opportunity to socialize with other girls.

Family Life
Iraqi girls are silenced Iraqi girls spend most of their time tending to household chores with their mothers, and often live in cramped living quarters with 2-3 other relatives in each bedroom. On the surface, an average day for Zainab, who attends “Sometimes I don’t feel like school, is ordinary enough. “I wake up at 7am, get eating because I am so lonely dressed, wash my hands for prayer, go to school, and it is only me and my mom. and during the school break I can play a bit in the Before, in Iraq, we always had yard.” After coming home, she helps her mother lots of friends and family at with household chores; sometimes she takes a nap, meal times.” does her homework, and watches a little television. It was only after speaking with her for a while that —14-year-old Zainab she began to reveal her feelings of isolation, and anxiety about the future. Reem, on the other hand, does not attend school and talks about her day, “I wake up at 12am, have a bit of breakfast, pray and make sure that everyone else prays or else my father hits us. He comes home to check that everyone is praying otherwise, he hits us 11-12 times with a stick. I wash dishes, help my mother, and go to bed at midnight. My mother wakes me up for the 4am prayer, and then I go back to 12

sleep.” Reem spoke openly about her abusive father and considers domestic violence a norm. Haifa, 13, arrived from Iraq two months ago. The biggest difference she notices at home is how her brothers’ treatment of her has changed. “My brothers are always home now and they become angry, nervous, and yell at me more.” Haifa fights with her mother a lot because “The Iraqi girl is constantly she is stuck at home all day with nothing to do under pressure from everyone and cannot leave the house alone. The school and cannot enjoy life. All she year is approaching and her parents have not yet does is get fed, dressed, and registered her. Amal, who works in the stays in the flat to help her community of Sayyeda Zaynab, explains that mother. No one is concerned often once a brother or father enters the about her, what she wants, what apartment, a girl can no longer touch the she feels, what she likes.” -television, dance, laugh, or listen to music. Girls Amal, community worker are scolded for being too noisy. Her male relatives order her ‘stop making noise; otherwise everyone in the community will hear you. We are foreigners here; do you want them to think that we are not civilized?’ Amal goes on to say that unlike girls, boys in the community are free to do what they want. She is worried that girls are being silenced in their homes. They need private time to play, or go out for a picnic and do a sport. Some girls are not even allowed to answer the phone or open the door because the family feels that they are outsiders and should be careful not to draw any attention to their girls. In Iraq, these girls could go to the market, school, and interact with other girls. Now that they are foreigners, their rights are being taken away from them even by members of their family.

The economic exploitation of adolescent girls and boys is on the rise as family savings dwindle and poorer Iraqi families arrive in Syria. Many Iraqi children cannot enjoy their right to an education because they have to work long hours to support their family, earning as little as 50 to 100 Syrian pounds (SP) a day—equivalent to US $1-2. Girls work as domestic workers, in factories, or sell small goods on the streets. Children and adolescents often accept lower-paying jobs than adults and are exposed to more hazardous and exploitative working environments. One Iraqi peer educator interviewed a young Iraqi girl whose only source of income was a scale for people to weigh themselves. She charges 10 Syrian pounds per client (20 US cents) and works up to one o’clock in the morning. When asked if she was afraid to work so late, she replied “What can I do? This is my only resource.” Some children report that they are supposed to be paid on a weekly basis, but employers sometimes do not pay them at the


end of the week, or pay them less than the sum agreed.15 Unfortunately, there is no legal recourse in such cases. The girls most vulnerable to child labor are orphans or those whose parents cannot work. Leila, 18, whose father suffers from a severe medical condition, used to wake up at 6am and go with her sister and mother to a sewing factory near Babila from 7 to 5pm. She earned up to 4,000 (SP) a month (US$80). But she hated her work because she was badly treated. “They would say mean things about Iraqis, and sometimes they would hit me.” Fortunately, Leila was able to leave when an opportunity to take free training classes came her way. The decision was difficult, since it meant a financial loss for the family, but she wanted to improve her future prospects. Leila worries about her 12 year old neighbor who is working in the same factory as a cleaning girl because her father was killed in Iraq and she needs to make an income. Leila thinks that her neighbor should have the chance to go to school and be given a small sum of money to survive. Otherwise, she is very vulnerable, and may never be able to obtain a job that she can do with dignity.

“Secret prostitution” is on the rise and difficult to detect. Numerous reports and observations from community workers confirm the rise in prostitution linked to the increasing number of desperate refugees. Walid, a project officer for a Syrian NGO, interviewed a 12-year-old girl working as a prostitute in a night club outside Damascus. She was from Falluja and all the men in her family were killed. She came to Syria with her sisters, and someone she met along the way brought her to the night club. Walid says, “I was shocked that she was only 12 and doing this work instead of being in school. She is only a child and doesn’t know what she is doing.” He asked her why she was doing this type of work and she replied, “I just want a ceiling above my head and I need a job. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, I have to help feed my family.” Walid also encountered mothers in these clubs who bring their girls each night to work as prostitutes and then bring them home. They sit at the end of the halls in the nightclub, watching their girls dance to attract clients. In the winter, the clients are mainly Syrians and Iraqis while in the summer they are mostly from the Gulf. According to Hana Ibrahim, founder of the Iraqi Women’s Will organization, there may be as many 50,00016 Iraqi prostitutes in Syria, and many under 18. Iraqi girls of single-headed households, or whose parents are sick and cannot work, are especially vulnerable. Due to the sensitivity of the issue, there is limited information and

Al-Khalidi, Ashraf, Sophia Hoffman, and Victor Tanner, “Iraqi Refugees in the Syrian Arab Republic: A Field-based Snapshot” Brookings Institution and University of Bern, June 2007, p.38. 16 Interview with Hana Ibrahim, August 2007.


it is difficult to collect accurate figures on the severity of the phenomenon. Based on available data, sex work of Iraqi refugees in Syria is divided into three types: prostitution on the individual level, on a family level, and on the level of organized networks.17 The first type refers to a girl or woman who engages in sex work out of desperation and without the knowledge of her family. The second refers to those forced into this work with the knowledge and active organization of family members. This type of prostitution is often referred to as “secret prostitution” and many community workers observe its frequency in the area of Jaramana. Social workers have seen fathers (or male heads of families) renting out an apartment and inviting clients to have sex with his daughters or his wife. This makes the situation hard to detect. Even if the daughter or mother does get caught, the male family member can bail her out of prison. This makes it particularly difficult to prevent the incident from happening again. The third type of prostitution involves organized networks offering girls to people in the local community, tourists, as well as the night clubs and casinos outside the capital. This was the case of the 12-year-old girl from Falluja. UNHCR case workers at the registration center in Douma have a hard time detecting these cases because prostitution is illegal. One community worker who tries to prevent girls from turning to prostitution helps them find alternative jobs. If she can even find a position for a girl in a factory, the girl will only make $60 a month, rather than $60 a night18. Many of these prostitutes have lost their fathers, brothers, or husbands in Iraq. Once they have arrived safely in Syria, they are banned from working legally, leaving few options outside of the sex industry. At times, young Iraqi prostitutes caught by the Syrian authorities are quickly deported to Iraq for having false documents and engaging in prostitution. Back in Iraq, many procure false papers to return to Syria under a different name to continue their sex work. The vicious cycle of deportation and returning under false documents makes it very difficult for social workers to get detailed information on how these girls got into prostitution and whether they were trafficked. 19 And once the authorities decide to deport an Iraqi girl, social workers can do little to protect her.


17 18

UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP: “Assessment of the Situation of Iraqi Refugees in Syria,” March 2006, p.28. Interview with a sister from the Good Sheppard Nunnery, July 2007. 19 Interview with two workers from the Association for Women’s Role Development in Damascus, July, 2007


There is little protection for Iraqi victims of trafficking, especially those under the age of 18. Girls as young as 12 are trafficked out of Iraq and are sold to nightclubs and casinos as dancers, virgin brides, and prostitutes. Aishiq, 15, was first trafficked to Dubai by a woman who offered to help her after she was orphaned in Iraq.20 She later came to Syria to work as a nightclub dancer until the woman who trafficked her sold her to an elderly man for a temporary contract marriage known as a “pleasure marriage”. She was sold as a virgin for $4,000 and said, “when I married I had no period, I was 12.” Later Aishiq was kidnapped by her trafficker and brought to a doctor who reattached her hymen, causing her tremendous pain. Aishiq is still under the control of her trafficker and is repeatedly abused and raped if she asks for money. She is given little food and sleeps in a small space between the bathroom and the kitchen in the home of her trafficker. Her case was reported to UNHCR last year, and the officer in charge agreed that her case was urgent. They would have wanted Aishiq to come to their office for an interview––almost impossible, since the girl is under surveillance by her trafficker’s family. In addition, UNHCR would be put in a difficult position having to report her to the authorities, where she would be regarded as a prostitute rather than a victim of trafficking. Prostitution is illegal in Syria, and currently there are no laws that specifically prohibit trafficking in persons in Syria. Iraqi minors caught in sexual exploitation are reportedly housed in juvenile detention facilities, and often deported to Iraq. Lama21 was brought to Syria by her father and sold to someone who forced her and her sister into prostitution. Each time she was deported to Iraq, her father would bring her back. The last time, when he sold her to another woman who attempted to force her into prostitution, she pleaded to do domestic work “I would do anything in the instead. This woman and her own sister world not to be deported back to continuously harassed her to engage in sex work, Iraq. Please help me.” --15which led her to report to the police. Once at the year-old Lama police station, she was mistreated by several officers and sent to a juvenile court for alleged prostitution and possession of false documents. She is terrified that she may be deported to Iraq. As an unaccompanied minor of 15, her life is in danger, especially if the grounds for her deportation are revealed. Sadly, if Lama locates her father, she will likely be sold into prostitution once again. In Lama’s eyes, the only way to avoid deportation is to find a Syrian man who will marry her quickly. Her case highlights the helplessness of trafficked Iraqi girls in juvenile detention centers. Immediate protection intervention is needed to prevent the deportation of these
20 21

Interview with a journalist who interviewed Aisha last year, August 2006. One of the cases identified during a visit to the Association for Women’s Role Development in Damascus, July, 2007


vulnerable girls. UNHCR was informed about Lama’s case, but prior to their intervention, she had already been deported. It is arguable whether UNHCR would be in a position to help if the girl were not registered with them. At the time, only registered refugees with temporary protection letters from UNHCR could be protected from deportation. Even with protection papers, UNHCR would have difficulty intervening should Syrian authorities consider her in violation of national law and stamp her passport for deportation. In addition, Syria is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which means that temporary refugee protection is not enforceable. However, it is a breach of international law to forcibly return Iraqis at risk of human rights violations back to Iraq. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is working to implement counter-trafficking legislation that could help protect these girls. There is currently one center in Damascus, run by a nunnery, providing assistance to these girls, but they did not share details about the shelter for security purposes. There is an urgent need for the creation of more shelters to assist trafficked victims under 18 years of age. They need protection with the backing of Syrian authorities. If there is no safe place for them, they will either be deported or remain under the control of their trafficker.

IV. Analysis on the available assistance to the Iraqi community in Syria
This section will examine the assistance available to the Iraqi community in order to identify organizations capable of implementing programmes for vulnerable Iraqi adolescent girls. Of all the countries in the region, Syria has offered the most assistance to Iraqi refugees. State officials affirm that Syria is trying to deliver quality services to Iraqis in terms of education, health services, and infrastructure in a spirit of brotherly cooperation.22 By opening their borders, schools, and health services, the Syrians welcomed the first waves of Iraqis, especially those with professional skills and money to invest. But now that the schools are increasingly crowded and rent, services, food, and transportation costs have risen, the Syrian population is feeling the effect of the influx of Iraqis. The tension is palpable. A country of 19 million is not equipped to absorb the sudden arrival of 1.5 million refugees in a period of four years. By comparison, 400,000 Palestinian refugees arrived in Syria during the 1948 and 1967 waves. The new generations have been integrated, and an education, health and social services infrastructure was developed with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Nahed Hashem, “The Minister of Health of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Syria got together yesterday at the Cham Hotel in Damascus to address the health needs of Iraqis in neighboring countries”, the Syria Times, July 30th, 2007. Available at:


The rights of Iraqi adolescent girls’ were violated in Iraq by all parties engaged in the conflict that forced them to flee to Syria with their families for their security. Syria needs assistance from the international community in shouldering social and economic burdens resulting from the influx of Iraqi refugees into the country. The infrastructure of the country was not designed to handle such a large scale refugee crisis. This puts UN agencies and civil society partners in a critical position. They should increase direct assistance to Iraqi refugees who are not being reached. Furthermore, they should support the Syrian government’s attempts to assist and protect the Iraqi population within its borders. UN agencies such as UNHCR and UNICEF are limited in their ability to support large numbers of Iraqi refugees because of the lack of implementing partners. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) is the main national organization appointed by the state to provide support to Iraqi refugees. As a result, UN agencies (UNHCR, UNICEF, UNFPA) are all targeting SARC for programme implementation. SARC is currently expanding its programmes to deliver basic medical services, to conduct home visits to families in need, to distribute food and non-food items, to provide vocational training for those over 18, and to give school assistance to children. However, the needs of the Iraqi community are overwhelming, and the organization does not have the capacity (i.e staff) to address them all. There are 24 staff members and 35 volunteers in the two SARC offices in Damascus that focus on refugee relief work23. Both international and local NGOs working in Syria have expressed their concern in SARC’s capacity to response to the growing refugee crisis and, therefore, to deliver quality services. International NGOs wishing to carry out projects for Iraqis have to go through long and vague procedures to get approved by SARC. As a result, these bureaucratic procedures often impede projects from getting off the ground quickly. The Syrian government has recently approved at least seven new international NGOs24 to work in Syria. They are waiting to sign a memorandum of understanding with SARC before starting their programmes. As these international NGOs arrive, the challenge will be for SARC to increase its capacity to respond to the new collaboration requests. Apart from SARC, only a handful of NGOs and religious organizations (i.e Caritas Syria, Good Sheppard Nunnery, Ibrahim Al Khalil, Terres des Hommes Syria) are providing assistance to the Iraqi population in Syria25. Relief programmes for Iraqi refugees tend to assist families as a whole instead of individual members (i.e food ration cards), and focus on basic needs (i.e medicine, clothing) rather than skill training or psychosocial support. There are two community centers run by UNHCR (one in Sayyeda Zaynab and one in Masaken Barza) that offer English, computer classes, and vocational training for adults
23 24

Interview with SARC staff, July 2007. Danish Refugee Council, Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children UK, Islamic Relief, International Medical Corp, Première Urgence, Terres des Hommes Lausanne. Interview with Unicef staff, July, 2007. 25 See Annex 2 for a mapping of organizations assisting Iraqi refugees.


and adolescents. Four more community centers funded by UNHCR will open soon and will be run by SARC. UNICEF will support recreational, psychosocial and educational activities for boys and girls in these community centers. In addition, UNICEF is planning to create several adolescent friendly spaces within cultural centers in Jaramana, Qudsaya, and Sayyeda Zaynab, Zabadani, Masaken Barza and Yarmouk. As of now, there are no programmes focused on the specific needs of Iraqi adolescent girls which offer integral services of psychosocial support, life skills, recreational and income generating activities. There are a few organizations within the Iraqi refugee community (i.e Iraqi Colony Organization, Iraqi Organization for Immigrants), and they are not very well-known. Others are known to have strong political affiliations in Iraq (i.e the Muslim Scholar Organization). One recent report states that “Self-help among Iraqi Muslim refugees seems to be limited to friends and kin, but there is little formal organizing among the refugees.”26 However, institutional and bureaucratic procedures are impeding nonpolitical Iraqi organizations from gaining the proper registration status from the Ministry of Social Affairs. This is crucial for an organization to fundraise and to expand their services, since UN agencies as well as national and international NGOs cannot give funds to organizations lacking this registration status. This may explain the dearth of NGOs in the Iraqi refugee community. Because of the lack of assistance, several community workers27 have noticed that families are turning more to their religious communities to receive basic assistance from their mosques. The mosques collect money and clothes to distribute to those who cannot pay their rent or afford food. However, these are not inclusive networks and may reinforce religious sectarianism. Interviews with UN partners, NGOs, and community-based organization reveal both the lack of Iraqi refugee participation in the decision process of humanitarian aid projects, and an underlying sentiment that Iraqis are incapable to help themselves or work together because of political strife. For example, only one Iraqi staff member works full time for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. One NGO staff member claimed that all Iraqi organizations were political and problematic, and showed no willingness to collaborate with them. Many Iraqis have come to Syria to escape political conflict and have suffered greatly as a result of divisive sectarianism in Iraq. There are numerous qualified and willing Iraqis who are ready to be involved in serving their community, and they remain an untapped resource. Participation and building on available assets are among the six core principles in the Inter-Agency-Standing Committee (IASC) guidelines on mental health.28 The first means

Al-Khalidi, Ashraf, Sophia Hoffman, and Victor Tanner, “Iraqi Refugees in the Syrian Arab Republic: A Field-based Snapshot” Brookings Institution and University of Bern, June 2007, p.40. 27 Interview with two community workers in Sayyeda Zaynab, July, 2007. 28 Iasc Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings, 2007. p. 9-10.


that the affected population should participate as much as possible in the humanitarian response. It also means enabling different local sub-groups to retain control over decisions. The second is to build the local capacity and strength resources already present in the community. Refugee participation is a key factor in assuring the success of any project. But the refugees interviewed stressed that they have not been involved. They are upset at the lack of services available to them. They are outraged that they are not being treated with dignity29 (for example, standing in line for hours for an appointment with UNHCR). Since August 2007, UNHCR has registered more than 110,00030 Iraqis and it hopes to register up to 200,000 by the end of the year. That still represents a small fraction of the 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria. Iraqi refugees must present UNHCR protection papers in order to receive some reimbursement for health expenses through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Except in a few emergency cases, the policy is that SARC clinics should not treat Iraqi refugees without these papers. In conclusion, too few implementing partners in Syria have the organizational and technical capacity to respond to the crisis. In order for UN agencies to set up programmes that can reach a significant number of vulnerable Iraqis adolescent girls, they need to work with as many partners as possible. They should continue to work with existing national and international partners, as well as engage and to build the capacity of local Iraqi groups.

V. Recommendations
Adolescence is a period of change and increased vulnerability for Iraqi girls. There are various emergent issues that arise by the age of 12 that are relevant for them: sexual maturation, gender-based violence, disproportionate care and domestic work burden, withdrawal from and/or lack of safety in the public space, school leaving, loss of peers, entry in the informal economy, rising need for independent and disposable income & assets, and pressure for marriage or sex work as livelihoods strategies.31 These issues highlight the need for special programming for Iraqi adolescent girls starting from the age of 12 based on a participatory approach, and a safe environment for their transition to adulthood. The following recommendations are designed on the findings of this report and are in line with UNICEF’s protective environment conceptual framework32 to ensure that children
29 30

Interview with Iraqi mothers, Sayyeda Zaynab, July 2007. UNHCR Press release, August 10, 2007. Available at: 31 Bruce, Judith. “The Girls Left Behind”, Population Council presentation, Rome, July 11, 2006. 32 Eight Components of Building a Protective Environment: 1) Strengthening Government Commitment and Capacity to Fulfill Child Protection Rights; 2) Promoting the Establishment of Protective Legislation and Enforcement; 3) Addressing Harmful Attitudes, Customs, and Practices: 4) Including Open Discussion of Child Protection Issues; 5) Developing Children’s Life Skills, Knowledge, and Participation; 6) Building


are protected from abuse, violence, and exploitation. The recommendations also emphasize several of the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Syrian government signed and ratified in 1993. In addition, several of the recommendations are based on successful adolescent girl programmes such as the “safe space” model carried out by the Population Council and its partners in Egypt, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Guatemala33. This programme model promotes the creation of a social infrastructure for girls by providing a reliable and safe place to meet, learn, exchange; peer networks and friendships; older role models and mentors. This section also draws upon several key lessons in UNICEF’s adolescent programming in conflict and post-conflict settings involving peer educators and local community leaders. 34 All of the proposed activities in this report should also be offered to disadvantaged Syrian and non-Iraqi refugee adolescent girls. This is especially important to prevent further tension from the host community who is already strained by the Iraqi influx, and to create an environment of non-discrimination and integration. Although boys are not included in these programmes, there is a demand for Iraqi adolescent boys’ programmes, and a separate assessment should be done to determine their needs. Young Iraqi adolescent girls and boys have a desire to express themselves, and they need encouragement and guidance to develop their potential if they are going to be the ones to rebuild their communities torn by conflict.

A. The Right to an Education – Article 28, the Convention of the Rights of the Child
Recommendation #1: Increase the enrollment rate of Iraqi refugee girls and increase the capacity of local schools to absorb them.

One of the most effective and important protection strategies for adolescent girls is an investment in their education because attending school provides them with essential life and cognitive skills, prepares them to enter the workforce, and decreases the chances that they will be sexually or economically exploited. In addition, quality education gives structure and stability for those severely distressed by displacement and the conflict in Iraq. Strategy: Building the capacity to protect among parents and the community Activities:
the Capacity to Protect Among Families and Communities; 7) Providing Essential Services for Recovery and Reintegration; 8) Implementing Ongoing Monitoring, Reporting, and Oversight: 33 Bruce, Judith. “The Girls Left Behind”, Population Council presentation, Rome, July 11, 2006. 34 UNICEF. “Adolescent Programming During Conflict and Post Conflict Situations.” June 2004. Available at .


Organize outreach meetings for parents to explain the protection benefits of having girls attend schools and offer incentives for families in need35 to send their adolescent girls to school. Incentives could include food ration cards, books and supplies. Work with community centers, and mobilize a group of Iraqi volunteers to help disseminate information on registration policy and procedures. Making such information available as soon as the refugee arrives in Syria will not only facilitate the process of enrolling children in school, but will also put education high on the agenda of a refugee with many competing priorities. A team of Iraqi refugee volunteers could be recruited to distribute vital information on where and how to register Iraqi children at the main bus station in Sayyeda Zaynab, where hundreds of Iraqi families arrive each day. According to UNHCR, the number of new arrivals in Syria is 2,000 each day. Create a unit within several centrally located community centers with a hotline to assist Iraqis by phone or in person with school registration questions, location and time for school placement exams. This service would especially benefit the children who lack proper documentation and those who arrive at various times during the school year. These units could also report complaints against serious discriminatory acts by teachers and school officials, for example, those who refuse to give children their right to a placement exam. This would introduce a system of accountability because Iraqi refugees have great difficulty being heard at the Ministry of Education and cannot complain directly to the school authorities. Strategy: Increase the capacity of the Syrian educational infrastructure to handle the current Iraqi refugee influx Activities Conduct a needs assessment of the schools in the areas where Iraqi communities are concentrated and provide them with educational resources such as teacher aids, books, basic supplies and equipment. In addition, help recruit and train additional teachers to maintain smaller class sizes and to support the integration of the Iraqis through child-friendly methods.
Recommendation #2: Increase the number of catch-up classes and training courses available for out-of school girls.

Single-headed families, families with many children, families with a sick or handicap parent, families with no breadwinner.



Out-of-school girls may be the most vulnerable to rape, forced marriage, trafficking, and a life of poverty and exploitation. Many adolescent Iraqi girls are not in school because they have lost time in school and fear being in a class with younger students. Others have dropped out of school because of their difficulty adjusting to a new curriculum. Strategy: Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education and tailor specific interventions for the different categories of girls Activities: Support catch-up classes in community centers, local NGO offices, or youthfriendly spaces for Iraqi adolescent girls who already have a basic education, but wish to enter the Syrian school system for the first time and prepare them for reintegration. Offer catch-up classes to those who have failed their end of school examinations so they do not drop out of the educational system. These classes would also be available for drop-out students. Provide group tutoring classes for Iraqi girls in selected overcrowded schools where students are 60 in a class and the quality of education is jeopardized. In the long-term, the more effective solution would be to build more schools, and to allow Iraqi teachers to teach since many of them are qualified and currently unemployed. Provide basic literacy classes for those who are illiterate and consider an adaptation of the UNICEF “second chance” model that was used for Syrian adolescent girls. This would give Iraqi girls access to the accelerated curriculum that was approved by the Ministry of Education. Offer vocational classes and income generating activities (nursing, tailoring, artisan skills, hairdressing, etc.) for out-of-school girls who do not wish to go back to school, but who are keen to learn a skill and need to make an income. All transportation costs and materials for training classes should be provided in order not to burden families with additional costs. Recommendation #3: Raise awareness on discrimination in schools and apply principles of child-friendly schools.
Article 29 section 1(c) of The Convention on the Rights of the Child states: “the education of the child shall be directed to the development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is


living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own.” As outlined above, it is the right of the child to have an education without discrimination, yet the majority of the Iraqi girls interviewed complained of the blatant intolerance towards them and their Iraqi peers in school. Although more data is needed to determine the extent of the problem, the issue should be addressed right away.

Strategy: Involve the Ministry of Education officials on tackling discrimination in schools and strengthen their capacity to fulfill child protection rights Activities: Launch an awareness initiative for teachers and school officials and conduct training sessions for them on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and on the principles of child-friendly schools. A child-friendly school regards education as every child’s right and helps to monitor the rights and well-being of every child in the community36. The school does not exclude, discriminate or stereotype on the basis of difference. It respects diversity and ensures equality of learning for all children. Offer support and look at ways to ease stress for teachers working in overcrowded schools. Design an accountability system where teachers can be reported for perpetrating serious discriminatory acts. This is a very delicate matter for both sides and should not result in a backlash against Iraqi students who complain.

B. The Right to Protection – Article 19, the Convention of the Rights of the Child Recommendation #4: Empower and protect adolescent girls with a space of their own. Adolescent girls are less vulnerable to abuse when they are aware of their right not to be exploited, or of services available to protect them. With the right protective environment, these girls can draw upon their knowledge, skills and resilience to reduce their risk of exploitation. It is important for them to have a safe place to go to where they can express themselves and gain livelihood skills that enable them to actively participate in their own societies.


More information on child-friendly schools can be found at:


Strategy: Develop life skills, knowledge and participation and provide youth friendly spaces Activities Create a safe space for adolescent girls outside of their home and school environment where they can make friends and develop a network of nonfamily peers as well as experience being part of a team37. The space should be centrally located in the parts of Damascus and its outskirts so girls do not have to travel far or a relative can easily accompany them. These safe spaces would offer livelihood skills, health knowledge, self-protection and crisis management tools. These centers should recruit mentors and role models from their community whom girls can trust and talk to about the various pressures they are under. Fun, recreational activities (such as music, sports, excursions, picnics, and projection of movies) should also be included in the programming to engage the girls. Lastly, psychosocial support activities should be integrated in the programmes, especially activities geared toward girls who have suffered from the violence in Iraq as well as from the displacement. Support life skills programmes in community centers that teach adolescent Iraqi girls innovative and critical thinking, as well as communication, and problem-solving skills that enable them to deal positively with their everyday challenges. Support existing community-based programmes that are providing English and computer courses as well as income generating classes for Iraqi adolescent girls (i.e Good Sheppard Nunnery, UNHCR Community Center in Sayyeda Zaynab). Strategy: Replicate and adapt successful peer-to-peer programmes Activities: Look at successful UNICEF case studies in the region such as the “Palestinian Adolescent: Agents of Positive Change Towards an Environment Promoting Peace and Reconciliation” programme which started in 2005. This project provides a supportive and protective environment for Palestinian adolescents aged 10-18 living in refugee camps in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The “We know our setting and we project offers adolescent friendly can express our needs, but we

should invite Iraqi adolescent Bruce, Judith. “The Girls Left Behind”, Population Council presentation, Rome, directly2006. girls and ask them July 11, about their problems and needs. 25 We can bring them here and slowly mix them in our program.” 14-year-old

spaces and provides life and livelihood skills, along with recreational, cultural and sports activities, English and Arabic lessons, and internet services. In addition, there is a peer-to-peer support group at the youth clubs to establish a support network for adolescents. Some of the topics covered in peer-to-peer counseling are lack of space to pursue hobbies, violence in the community, smoking, forced marriage, and HIV/AIDS. Rama, 16, who participated in the programme says, “The most important thing I learned was self-esteem. I learned how to say no, to communicate with others and to think about something before acting”. Rama explains that one of the self-esteem activities was to look at herself in the mirror and write a letter to herself listing all the good points of her personality. She feels that a similar life skill programme would be beneficial for Iraqi adolescent refugees. Noor, 17, another peer educator thinks that Iraqi adolescent girls need special support groups and psychosocial activities to deal with the horror of the war. In addition, special efforts should be made to integrate them in the community so they are not so isolated and can interact with their neighbors. Noor adds that: “Iraqi girls need something to do to fill their time and to help their society.” The UNICEF trainer on life skills and child protection for the project emphasized that parents should be involved from the beginning so that they are comfortable with the programme and are supportive. He thinks it would be important to have separate programmes for Iraqi adolescent girls since many may have been exposed to physical or sexual violence and, therefore, should not be mixed in with boys. He proposes that peer-to-peer counseling among Iraqi girls should include the subject of reproductive health, early marriage, HIV/AIDS, violence and exploitation. These are all important subjects for them to learn in order to protect themselves. The subject of forced marriage may be especially relevant for out-of-school girls who have nothing to do at home, witness domestic violence, and therefore are willing to accept any marriage to get out of the house. Another positive adolescent programme highlighted in the report UNICEF: Adolescent Programming During Conflict and Post Conflict Situations is the “We care peer-to-peer counseling program for children”. The programme took place in Gaza and trains university student volunteers (usually sociology/psychology students) to provide psychological support, mentoring, and recreational activities for children and adolescents in schools and community centers. Once trained, the students work with adolescents in the most violence-stricken areas. These programmes give adolescents a much-needed outlet for their stress, and a chance to express their views, hopes, and fears. The outreach programme takes place in the school and community centers. In addition, a toll-free hotline was established for adolescents to call their peer counselors. This programme illustrates the importance of youth participation, as the peer-to-peer project was planned and implemented by adolescents from the onset. One of the lessons highlighted in this 26

case study was the need for additional encouragement and support for girls to participate confidently since, traditionally, women in their community have not played a lead role in family and society.38 Once given the opportunity, then these girls quickly become leaders among their peers. Another important lesson learned was the necessity to respond to local restrictions and customs, particularly in rural villages where adolescent girls and boys do not mix freely, for example, by having older female student mentors provide psychosocial support for adolescent girls. Recommendation #5: Respond to the psychosocial needs of young Iraqi victims of trafficking. Although there is no official data on the number of Iraqi girls trafficked into Syria, there are reports of Iraqi girls being subjected to sexual exploitation in Syria through Iraqi networks and family members39. Article 34 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) says: “States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.” As a signatory of the CRC, the Syrian government has an obligation to protect Iraqi girls living in Syria from sexual exploitation, but it has yet to implement adequate counter-trafficking legislation to protect these victims. IOM is working on improving counter-trafficking measures and raising the awareness of Syrian law enforcement. Iraqi adolescent girls who are arrested for prostitution or alleged prostitution are especially vulnerable to being deported to Iraq or bailed out from prison by pimps who present false marriage licenses. However, the short time that these girls are in prison or juvenile centers presents an opportune time for an intervention. Strategy: Establish a better coordination mechanism among UN agencies and other stakeholders to protect trafficked and sexually exploited children Activities: Develop an immediate response unit that includes social workers in juvenile centers, UN protection officers as well as other stakeholders who can work together with the authorities to prevent Iraqi adolescent girls from being deported or released to a person falsely claiming to be their husband or family relative. For example, the team should ensure that any vulnerable Iraqi girl being detained in a juvenile center should get UNHCR protection papers before her passport gets stamped for deportation.

38 39

UNICEF. “Adolescent Programming During Conflict and Post Conflict Situations.” June 2004, p.54. Case study of trafficked Iraqi girl by her father detained in juvenile center, Damascus, July 2007


Carry out a comprehensive needs assessment of vulnerable Iraqi adolescent girls in Syria, and in particular, collect more information on their reproductive health needs, threat of forced marriage, and other forms of gender based violence. Strategy: Provide essential protection, recovery and reintegration services to trafficked and sexually exploited children Activities: Support shelters for children who are victims of trafficking or sexual abuse and who do not have an alternative safe place to go. These shelters will also enable social workers to gather more specific information on whether the girl is trafficked in order to determine an appropriate protection intervention and help guide better prevention programmes. Provide reintegration assistance such as vocational training and psycho-support services for physically abused and/or sexually exploited Iraqi adolescent girls (i.e. the Association for Women’s Role Development provides girls in detention juvenile centers with health check-ups and hygiene classes, psycho-support, literacy classes, recreational and sports activities.40) Recommendation #6: Strengthen partnerships and identify new implementing organizations. There is a lack of implementing partners in Syria who have the organizational and technical capacity to respond to the refugee crisis at hand. If UNICEF and other UN agencies hope to implement large scale interventions for vulnerable Iraqi adolescent girls they should work with existing national and international partners (i.e. SARC, Movimondo, Caritas Syria, Syrian Family Planning Association, Youth Union), local community-based groups as well as new partners with technical expertise in refugee humanitarian assistance and adolescent programming (i.e Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children UK, Danish Refugee Council). Strategy: Improve coordination and reinforce the capacity of partners to ensure protection for adolescent girls and their families Activities: Solicit proposals for adolescent girl programmes from NGOs already working closely with the Iraqi population on the ground.


See Annex 2 for more information on the Association for Women’s Role Development.


Meet with potential partners who will soon begin their humanitarian relief work and determine whether their priorities and expertise match the recommended protection interventions for Iraqi adolescent girls. Strengthen collaboration and joint-programming targeted toward vulnerable Iraqi adolescent girls among key UN agencies and partners (i.e UNHCR, UNFPA, IOM). Recommendation #7: Increase Iraqi participation and decision-making in community based programmes. The international community recognizes that refugee participation is a key factor to the success of any project. Therefore, an essential component to ensure the protection and well-being of refugees, and adolescent girls in particular, is their active participation in planning and developing programmes and decisions affecting them. Furthermore, humanitarian organizations should recruit more Iraqi staff in the implementation of their projects at the community level, especially since there exists a wide pool of qualified Iraqi professionals. The input and participation of the Iraqi community will ensure that programmes respond better to their needs, thus improving the programme’s effectiveness and sustainability. Strategy: Ensure a participatory approach in identifying needs, designing and implementing programmes Activities Organize out-reach programmes to involve refugee parents in the decisions affecting the security and future of their children, as well as outreach activities for adolescent girls to express their most pressing needs. Recruit a balanced number of qualified Iraqi and Syrian professionals to teach catch-up classes, vocational training courses and coordinate adolescent girl programmes. Help community-based Iraqi organizations obtain more visibility, capacity building and funding opportunities in order for them to start-up or expand their adolescent programming (especially for girls). Encourage national, international NGOs and UN agencies to partner more with Iraqi community-based organizations and/or consult with respected leaders in the community.

VI. Conclusion
UNICEF along with other UN agencies, donors, and civil society partners have a critical role in supporting the Syrian government in its responsibilities to protect and assist 29

vulnerable Iraqi adolescent girls who are at risk of economic and sexual exploitation. A successful intervention for Iraqi girls will guarantee that their rights are not irremediably lost and will equip them with the tools to live in dignity and freedom. The most effective protection intervention is access to education, and UN partners should invest significant resources in ensuring that Iraqi adolescent girls are registered in school, do not drop out, and give those outside the educational system the opportunity to learn vocational skills and participate in income generating activities. Furthermore, for those that have suffered from severe exploitation or have been trafficked, the Syrian and Iraqi government along with donors, UN agencies and civil society partners should help them receive shelter and assistance for reintegration in society. Lastly, by international humanitarian standards UN agencies and partners have a responsibility to help Iraqi refugee girls and members of their community gain a more active participatory role in developing programmes and decisions affecting them. This report attempts to communicate the concerns and the stories of a number of Iraqi adolescent girls living in the outskirts of Damascus, but there are hundreds of thousands that have not been heard and merit to a have safe place to grow and learn.


Annex 1
Below is the drawing of a young Iraqi refugee girl drawn in a juvenile center41 depicting her burning heart. The candle represents the love she had for her father that she trusted fully, but in the end he betrayed her and her siblings. The plant represents her father, and although seemingly beautiful, it is poisonous. The hearts in the ground are the roots of love that one must have to survive which represent her mother and grandmother.


Drawing shown by social workers working at the Association for the Women’s Role Development, July 2007. It is very likely that the girl was sexually exploited like the majority of girls in the detention center, but all names were kept secret for confidentiality purposes.


Below is a mapping of the civil society organizations interviewed with descriptions of their programs for Iraqis living in Syria42. Name-contact person Caritas Syria Director, Père Leba Coordinator, Soeur Antoinette Operational since 1995. Caritas opened their center in Jaramana in 2003. # of staff 8 in Jarama office, 12 in ICMC office, 12 in CRS office Programs for Iraqis Location

Jaramana -Food distributioncurrently gives $6 coupons to families every 40 days to 3,000 families (UNHCR funds) as well as 4,000 additional families (Caritas funds). -Financial assistance for a percentage of medical bills to families in need (i.e urgent surgeries, safe deliveries for mothers) - Register out -of school kids in public school or private school and give them uniforms, books, and supplies (200 registrations in collaboration with International, Catholic, Migration pour les immigrantsICMC).

Movimondo Patrizia Giffoni, Director


4 staff members

-Will soon collaborate with UNICEF and Palestinian Red Crescent Society on supporting recreational spaces for

Damascus Al Tanf

There are several other organizations that give assistance to Iraqi refugees, but they were not interviewed (such as the Iraqi Organization for Immigrants, the Ibrahim Al Khalil, La Croix Rouge Française, etc).



children of both sexes in the al-Tanf Refugee Camp by training a selection of young and adult men and women of the refugee community to perform and manage recreational-cultural and psychosocial support activities. Good Sheppard Nunnery Soeur Terese, Coordinator Working in Masaken Barza for almost 20 years 2-3 nuns working full time, 25 volunteers for the Masaken Barza center. -no information given out on the staff running the shelter due to their protection policy for the girls and women -Shelter for abused Masaken Iraqi and Syrian Barza women (including minors) -Center in Masaken Barza providing classes and recreational activities for young Iraqi refugees as well as training courses for Iraqi mothers -A significant majority of the beneficiaries in their center are Iraqi Christian refugees, but their policy is to be open to all faiths

Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) Raya Ramadan Mouna Kurdi, General Manager

SARC was established in 1942 with the support of the ICRC and IFRC in 1946. The headquarters are in Damascus with 14 branches

There are 24 staff members and 35 volunteers in the two offices in Damascus that focus on refugee relief work.

Medical assistance, vocal training for those over 18, school assistance, as well as food & non food items distribution and financial assistance $100-50.

Two offices, but only one office in Abu Romani43 for Iraqi refugees. 2 medical clinics in Sayyeda


The second office in Mazara gives assistance to Afghanistan, Somali, Sudanese, Ethiopian refugees.


and 47 subbranches. Iraqi Colony Organization Mohammad AlJbore, Head of Organization Opened in September 2006 to serve Iraqi refugees in need. -no stated political affiliation -Permission from Ministry of Social Affairs to carry out their work, but they are waiting for their official registration status. Started in 2004 with the mission to protect 11-18 year old girls transferred to a juvenile detention center. -Registered with Ministry of Social Affairs - Run by 5 permanent Iraqi volunteers in Sayyeda Zaynab office, plus a wide network of supporters in the community including Iraqi artists and teachers -medical assistance for families in need -recreational activities for boys (i.e summer soccer clubs) combined with life skills -catch-up training classes for girls and boys in Arabic and English -organize small festivals in the community involving children

Zainab and Jaramana -Sayyeda Zaynab (having difficulty with payment of their rent in this office) -Aleppo -Tartus

Association for Women’s Role Development Youmn Abou Alhosn, Board Member

11 board members (men and women), 3 social workers from the government, 1 social worker from NGO, 4 employees at the Social Education institute (SEI) and 20 volunteers including a doctor and lawyer.

Damascus - Help run the SEI44 which is a Syrian governmental institution. 35% of the girls that come through the center are Iraqi refugee girls accused of prostitution (few stay more than 1 day because they are either deported or someone presents papers from a relative (often false documents) so they can be immediately released. -Services offered for girls include 1)health check-ups & hygiene


The Social Education Institution (SEI) is a juvenile detention center for minors who cannot be tried yet in court.


classes especially for street girls 2) psychosocial support 3) Arabic courses for illiterate girls & advanced classes for literate girls 4) handicraft, computer, drawing and English classes, 5) sports - Will open a shelter for vulnerable girls over 18 to be operational in 3-4 months (funding and space is already secured). Terres des Hommes Syria Père Paul Sleiman -Registered in 1977 50 active members (including volunteer doctors, surgeons, and teachers) and hundreds of associates; all are overseen by a committee of 7 persons every 2 years. -Provide social services to children with disabilities -offer social services to families in need (ie. medical assistance, home visits, distribution of food clothes and baby milk) -send children to outside countries for special operations (i.e. open heart surgery) -center for those needing prostheses -has implemented projects for UNHCR The organization serves mostly Syrians, but recently they have been serving a large number of Iraqi families in need. They are known for 35 -Damascus (Seidnaya, Yabroud & Nabak) -Aleppo -Latakia -Homs

their a nondiscriminatory policy. Norwegian Refugee Council Elin Gjertse, Educational Project Advisor Danish Refugee Council Christian Hansen, Program Coordinator IOM Maria Rumman, Chief of Mission Laila Tomeh, Head of Project Development Unit Approval by government to work in Syria, waiting for MOU with SARC Approval by government to work in Syria, waiting for MOU with SARC 2001 - started counter trafficking work with government in the last two years. - working with government officials and police law enforcement on improving counter trafficking measures in Syria -Working with UNHRC on repatriating certain Iraqi refugees Damascus


Annex 3
Below are sample questions that were asked during focus group discussions with Iraqi adolescent girls living in Syria:

1. What is your daily life like? Could you describe a typical day? 2. What are the main changes in your life since you came to Syria? 3. What are your biggest needs? 4. Are you in school? (If no, why?) 5. What do you do when you are not in school? 6. Who is the first person you go to if you have a problem? 7. Is there anybody else you talk to when you have a concern? 8. What are your aspirations?


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