Iraqi Refugees Turn To Prostitution

Elizabeth Palmer Iraqi refugees women prostitute
Elizabeth Palmer Iraqi refugees women prostitute Syria Damascus

It's after midnight, and the action on the Jermana strip on the edge of Damascus is just picking up. CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports that this might seem an unlikely place to look for war refugees from Iraq, but inside — beyond the musicians and the floor show — they are there.

These refugees are selling the only thing they have left of any value: their bodies. In the clubs, the waiters act as dealmakers between clients and the Iraqi prostitutes.

This is the Arab world, where a woman's honor means everything. The fact that so many Iraqi women refugees are turning to prostitution is a mark of their desperation.

Suad fled the war Damascus two years ago with a son to support.

"For me, it is like being raped. There is no desire. It's something I have to do for the money," she says.

They need money because refugees aren't allowed to hold down legitimate jobs in Syria.

Some prostitutes — unwilling to be seen in clubs — work discreetly out of apartments in the cramped Iraqi refugee ghettos of Damascus.

They have no choice, explains May Barazi of the United Nations, because they've lost their husbands or fathers in the war.

Many women "are the only income providers to the family," Barazi says. "They had to become prostitutes."

Farah left her family behind in Baghdad and dreads the day they find out where she is and what she is doing.

"I would commit suicide if they found out, or my family would kill me. But there's no other solution. We are practically dead," she says.

The younger the flesh, the higher the price. Some of the Iraqi refugee prostitutes are still in their early teens.

"This isn't any life for a 15-year old. She should be playing. I'm sure she feels dead inside. Thee is nobody to help these girls," Farah says.

There is no one to help, but a growing stream of men from all over the Middle East is eager to prey on the most desperate refugees from the war.