International Boulevard

Fleeing War, Syrian Women Find an Over-Eager Embrace

Jordanian men are eager to ‘protect’ young Syrian women and girls forced out of their country by civil war by buying them for cheap secret marriages, a local columnist writes. A campaign to convince men that ‘rescue marriages’ are immoral.

ANNOUNCEMENT, ANNOUNCEMENT: Young Syrian girls available for marriage. Call the following numbers: (…)

This was the text of an advertisement that appeared on walls and lampposts just days after Syrian refugee women began arriving in the northern Jordanian provinces, fleeing the unrest that is shaking their country. The advertisement disappeared quickly. But young Syrian brides have been an avid topic of conversation in Jordan ever since.

Marrying a Syrian woman is now in reach for even those down-on-their-luck Jordanian men who couldn’t afford a dowry before. And for those who can afford it, marrying four refugee ladies at once could be a real boast. As for those already married, the threat of obtaining a Syrian second wife could sure rile up their wives.

All you have to do is go to Mafraq, (68 Km northeast of Amman) or Al-Ramtha (95 km north) to score a Syrian wife, with prices starting at as little 100 JD (US$140) and no more than 500 JD (US$703). A bargain that Jordanians are talking about at a time when the average cost of marrying in the country reaches 15,000 JD (US$ 21,000).

Publicly, those who marry Syrian refugees say that they want to “protect Muslim women” through a legal marriage that will lift them out of poverty and need, and help them to escape the harsh life of refugee camps. This is what the Jordanian groom claimed in the first such marriage, organized by an aid organization. As it turned out, his real motivation was the pleasure of a fifty-year old man in his twenty-year old refugee, acquired on the cheap. He married her in secret, and when exposed, quickly dumped her.

This incident caused aid organizations to shut down their matrimonial programs, despite a huge interest from prospective grooms. Moreover, to put an end to a flood of Jordanians wanting secret marriages with Syrian refugees, the Jordanian interior ministry circulated an order that all courts inform couples that marriage contracts not taking place in official courts would be invalid, and the groom held legally responsible.

The official figures, which only document 200 marriages between Jordanian men and Syrian refugee women since Feb. 2011, would be hard to reconcile with all of the hubbub. But during that time, the number of Syrian refugees in Jordan, most of them women, had risen to more than 100,000 by Sept 2012 [and 385,000 by mid-2013]

Syrian activists angered by the slander and harassment faced by their female compatriots started a social media campaign called ““. The campaign rejects transforming Syrian women-who have rebelled for their dignity -into cheap goods to be trafficked on the slave markets under the pretext of marriage and protection. The campaign’s Facebook page says that it has documented a small number of marriages, but was unable to communicate with the married refugee women or their families.

Campaigners hope on the one hand to warn families of the dangers of marrying off their daughters under flimsy pretexts in the hopes of protecting them or saving them from poverty. They also directly address the men of the countries where the Syrian refugees have fled to, men who may genuinely believe that offering marriage to refugees is offering help. It is not help, they say; it is a crime and should be looked upon as a shameful act which is contrary to religious ethics and human values.

The issue of “Syrian brides” in Jordan has been contained, its motives exposed. But just as troubling is the sexual exploitation of refugee women who have taken jobs as maids in Jordanian homes. This second phenomenon remains shrouded in total secrecy, silence imposed on it; all we know of it is rumors.

What disgrace that these women, young and old, women who have lost their homes and their safety, are paying doubly the price of war.

Mohammed Al Fudaylat

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