Lebanon cracks down on sex traffickers targeting Syrian women

Published 08.04.2016 11:22

Lebanese security forces disrupted a network of human traffickers who were kidnapping and forcing women into prostitution.

Security forces moved to dismantle the network this week, saving 75 women. Most of the females were identified as Syrians, who fled the war-torn country. The incident has sparked uproar in Lebanon.

Imad al-Rihawi and Ali Hassan, both Syrian nationals, were the ringleaders of the network. The women were held captive in a basement and forced to perform sexually explicit acts in a nightclub in the city of Jounieh. Police have identified the club owner as Lebanese business man Maurice Geagea. A local physician who performed illicit abortions for the abused women was disqualified from medical practice by the Lebanese health ministry.

Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, said on social media that "the network has been working for years in collusion with top officials".

Abused women told Anadolu Agency that police raided the club because of "licensing violations". Shortly after his arrest, ring leader al-Rihawi identified himself as a customer and was later released. The women were also allowed to leave, only to be kidnapped again.

Forced into sex slavery by al-Rihawi, the women were jailed in basements under strict guard.

Sally, a 27-year-old Syrian woman, was captured by the network and held captive for more than two years.

"He [al-Rihawi] told me that I have to work as a waitress for three months to help finance the home we were going to live in once married. The first evening when we went to his restaurant I was surprised to see the clothing of the female workers and I said that I did not want to work there," Sally said. "Imad [al-Rihawi] wanted me to stay the night. The doors were closed when I wanted to leave. His guards told me that I need permission from Imad to get out."

After 15 days in captivity, she was lashed until she was forced to say that she no longer wanted to leave.

"I planned to escape with a number of girls, but the guards caught three of us, including me. Five managed to escape. Imad tied me to the bed and started lashing me. He didn't lash me as much as the previous time because he said we had to work on Saturday. He taunted me by saying, 'I will beat you on Monday', but on Sunday, the police raided the house. During my captivity, I had forgotten [the sight of] sunlight and how the streets look."

Rana, a 24-year-old Syrian refugee in Lebanon, met al-Rihawi after being referred to him during her search for work. He initially promised her a job at his restaurant, but when she later learned the true nature of the work she was getting herself into, she refused.

"After being hit and tortured I accepted," she said. "Later, I became pregnant and they refused to send me to an abortion clinic. Four months later, they gave me medicine that killed the fetus and then they took it out. When police raided our place, I had just had the abortion. I was fainting inside the police station."

Syrian women in Lebanon continue to suffer at the hands of sex traffickers who exploit their vulnerable position as refugees.

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