A shocking new report — the latest in a string of horrifying revelations about the United Nations peacekeeping and aid efforts — claims that female Syrian refugees, who were fleeing widespread destruction wrought by their country’s civil war, were sexually exploited by men serving as U.N. aid workers.
The report, compiled by the UNFPA and reported on by the BBC, claims that some women were so fearful of being raped or sexually abused by aid workers that they refused to enter U.N. distribution centers and went without food, shelter, and necessary supplies. Others refused to accept aid from the U.N. because they feared those around them, who had heard the rumors about sexual exploitation, would think they had offered their bodies to U.N. workers for cloth or construction materials.
Workers who spoke to the UNFPA and BBC even claimed that local charities turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse because the U.N. was the only organization equipped to serve refugees in the most dangerous parts of Syria — even if those same aid workers were taking advantage of the lack of oversight.
“Examples were given of women or girls marrying officials for a short period of time for ‘sexual services’ in order to receive meals,” the report said.
U.N. workers acting as “distributors ask[ed] for telephone numbers of women and girls; giving them lifts to their houses ‘to take something in return’ or obtaining distributions ‘in exchange for a visit to her home’ or ‘in exchange for services, such as spending a night with them,'” the report continued.
Danielle Spencer, a “humanitarian adviser” for a charity working closely with Syrian women, was the first person to call attention to the exploitation. She told the BBC, “I remember one woman crying in the room and she was very upset about what she had experienced. Women and girls need to be protected when they are trying to receive food and soap and basic items to live.”
“The last thing you need is a man who you’re supposed to trust and supposed to be receiving aid from, then asking you to have sex with him and withholding aid from you,” she added.
The International Rescue Committee suggests that a full 40% of female Syrian refugees in two of the largest camps experienced some form of sexual harassment or violence during the aid disbursement process.
This news comes on the heels of a litany of shocking revelations about the United Nations international aid program. Across the globe, U.N. aid workers allegedly took advantage of women and girls in desperate situations.