To get to the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, Syrian women and girls had to face a gauntlet of deadly violence including extortion, trafficking and abuse. Once in the camps, they expected to find safety.
What they found, according to Amnesty International researchers, was more danger and the threat of gender violence.
A majority of the 2.9 million Syrian refugees are women and children. Having fled violence, and often surviving a treacherous journey across the Syrian desert, these refugees sought safety and shelter in the camps. More than 120,000 of them made their way to the Za’atri camp, making it the largest refugee camp in Jordan.
But Amnesty International researchers found conditions at the camp put these women and girls at risk for sexual violence. Refugees who had fled bombing and shelling are now living in fear and lack access to the most basic of services they need to live a normal life.
Something as necessary as going to the bathroom at night is now virtually impossible for these women. The lights in the toilets are regularly stolen, leaving them unlit and putting the women at risk for sexual assault. A Jordanian organization providing psycho-social services in Za’atri camp told Amnesty International that on average, they receive three to five women and girls per month reporting some form of sexual or gender-based violence.
The fear of assault has serious health consequences. Many women told AI researchers they were suffering from urinary tract infections; doctors in the camp confirmed that these infections were the result of women restraining from urinating during the night.
For younger Syrian girls, the danger of forced marriage is also prevalent. Amnesty International received reports that the lack of security and privacy may be driving families to consider such marriages more often. Several Syrian women told researchers that Jordanian men came to the camps looking for “brides,” believing their youth and refugee status put them in a vulnerable position.
There are solutions, simple, straight-forward ones. Jordan officials can step up efforts to prevent vandalism of toilet lights, increase police presence near the toilets and minimize security threats to the women and girls in the camps at all hours of the day. And marriages can be made less exploitative by Jordanian officials ensuring they are entered into with the full and genuine consent of both parties.
Amnesty International recognizes the burden Jordanian officials have taken on in caring for the large number of refugees, and the international community must step up its efforts to fulfill its pledges to assist Syria’s neighbors. But when there are solutions to preventing sexual assaults and gender violence, Jordanian officials have no excuse for not keeping communal toilets lit at night.
Take action now as part of Amnesty International’s 16 Days of Activism to ask Jordanian Minister of Interior Hussein al-Majali to protect Syrian women and girl refugees from sexual assault.