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Her father, sporting a salt-and-pepper beard and a traditional red-checkered headscarf, sits outside under the scorching sun, watching silently. Several tents away, a clean-shaven, tattooed young Syrian man, who says he was a barber back in the city of Idlib, offers his wife. As the flow of Syrian refugees into neighboring Jordan is sharply increasing, so is their desperation.
With Syria torn apart by civil war and its economy deeply damaged, the total number of people who have fled and are seeking aid has now passed a million, the United Nations said this week. More than , of the refugees are in Jordan, which recorded about 50, new arrivals in February alone, the highest influx to date. Scores of the Syrian women who escaped to Jordan are turning to prostitution, some forced or sold into it, even by their families. Some women refugees are highly vulnerable to exploitation by pimps or traffickers, particularly since a significant number fled without their husbands — sometimes with their children — and have little or no source of income.
Eleven Syrian prostitutes who talked to the AP in the refugee camp, a border town and three Jordanian cities asked to remain anonymous, citing shame and fear of prosecution by police in Jordan. Prostitution in Jordan is illegal and punishable by up to three years in jail, and foreign women and men found guilty can be deported. The majority of the 11 women say they turned to prostitution out of a desperate need for money.
Syrian women outnumbered those from any other country in several brothels, and in a couple of cases, virtually all the prostitutes were Syrian. Pimps say they have more women who are Syrian than of other nationalities. The influx of Syrian women has been noticed by the competition: A year-old Jordanian woman running a chain of at least seven brothels in northern Jordan complained that they were taking over the business.
Jordanian police also say dozens of Syrian women now work in prostitution. Despite strong traditions against sex outside marriage, prostitution takes place in the Arab world, as in other regions, though it is largely more hidden. While there may be known cruising areas in cities, overt red-light districts are rare, and some prostitutes even wear face veils to hide their activities.