Lebanon 'must protect Syrian women' from sex trafficking

Lebanon 'must protect Syrian women' from sex trafficking
Weaknesses and a lack of coordination in the Lebanese government’s response to sex trafficking is putting women and girls at risk, Human Rights Watch has warned.
3 min read
05 August, 2016
In March, the Lebanese security freed 75 Syrian women forced into prostitution [AFP]
Syrian refugee women in Lebanon are at risk of sex trafficking, Human Rights Watch [HRW] has warned, blaming the lack of coordination within Lebanese authorities and the police force in enforcing anti-trafficking laws more efficiently to protect victims.

Refugee women in particular are in danger of being forced into prostitution, after a series of police raids in 2015 and 2016 found many Syrian women were sexually exploited in Lebanon.

In March, the Lebanese security broke up a human trafficking network, freeing 75 Syrian women tortured and forced into prostitution.

"Trafficking into forced prostitution is a grave crime, and Lebanon should continue to step up its response," HRW's women's rights emergencies researcher Skye Wheeler said.

While the Lebanese authorities have taken important steps to tackle human trafficking, convicting 30 people for trafficking crimes in 2015, there is still a problem over the handling of these cases.

"The law [in Lebanon] was applied unevenly, as most judges lacked understanding of the crime and knowledge of best practices to handle trafficking cases appropriate," a 2016 US State Depart report on trafficking said adding that "some judges gave convicted traffickers weak sentences."

HRW also warned that victims lacked access to adequate support after they were freed.

"Survivors of trafficking need justice, service and support," Wheeler said.

Survivors of trafficking need justice, service and support

"Human Rights Watch is concerned that survivors of trafficking are not getting the services and support they need in Lebanon," the group said.

"In the [March] case, some of the survivors had to wait two or three days in police stations or an apartment before they were given spots in shelters run by non-governmental agencies."

HRW blames such delays on the lack of coordination within the Lebanese authorities, which it says often leads victims back into the hands of their captors.

"For the sake of the survivors, the authorities should ensure that all trafficking cases are handled efficiently and fairly in the courts," Wheeler said.

"But prosecutions are not enough. The authorities need a plan to fix broader problems of coordination among government and security agencies, inadequate services, and lack of justice for survivors of trafficking," she added.

The country’s 2011 anti-trafficking laws direct the Social Affairs Ministry to set up a trust fund for the victims using the assets seized from the traffickers.

But the ministry has not yet established the fund, and the case of freeing the 75 women in March demonstrates the weakness in the referral chain, a ministry staff told HRW.

Authorities are working to improve this, the source added.

Around 1.5 million Syrians fled to neighbouring Lebanon, forming a third of its population.

The government's refusal to renew residency permits, along with a shortage of international funds, leaves refugee women in a precarious position, vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers.