Taking a Syrian bride: patriotic duty or abuse?

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

Syrian women who have fled the violence in their country are in a vulnerable situation in more ways than one. RNW’s Arab desk has discovered that agencies in Libya are offering to arrange marriages with Syrian girls in refugee camps in the country.

The small office in a shopping street in Benghazi does not look like a marriage bureau. It displays material offering real estate services. But Libyan journalist Ibrahim al-Farjani verified for RNW that in fact it operates as a middleman for young men looking for a Syrian refugee bride.

An article published by RNW several weeks ago about men from Jordan, Libya and other Arab countries marrying Syrian girls provoked a lively discussion in Arab media. Facebook Pages were founded with names such as 'Refugees not spoils of war’ or 'No to selling the free women and marrying them off against their will’, immediately followed by others in defense of the marriages.

Save the family's honor
In a traditional Arab society, it is the duty of the family to protect girls and their honour by marrying them off. Refugee women are in a particularly vulnerable position and marriage can also offer them an opportunity to escape to a safe place and start building a new life.

According to Arab media, there are religious leaders calling upon their audiences to marry Syrian girls 'as a national duty' to save them from the difficult circumstances they are facing.

Discretion assured
Journalist Al-Farjani pretended to be a customer looking for a Syrian wife. ‘Registration costs 500 Libyan dinars (about 300 Euros),’ he reports. ‘The customer has to present a written application, including his name, age and address and the qualities he is looking for in his future wife.’  

The manager of the Benghazi office tells the journalist-customer that arrangements can be made in perfect discretion. The agency is collaborating with a person inside the refugee camp, whose wife will search for a suitable partner.

Cheaper than usual 
'People do not talk about anything else these days but about Syrian girls you could marry for one or two hundred pounds', says Jordanian columnist Maher Abu Tayer, who wrote a column on the matter.
Many young men cannot easily afford to marry a girl from their own country, as the bride’s family usually ask the groom's family for a high dowry. If Syrian families are now satisfied with a symbolic dowry in order to get their daughters in a safe situation, they become an attractive option for young Arab men.
An easy opportunity

Iraqi women rights activist Yanar Mohammed fears that behind the so-called noble motives there are less noble reasons. “A man in any society would not refuse a girl who is presented to him on a silver platter,”she says. “Especially when it is said to be a national or religious duty to marry her to save her honour, he will seize that opportunity.”

According to Mohammed, what is happening in Syria now is similar to the situation Iraqi women faced during the sectarian clashes in 2005-2009. 'It was like trading in Iraqi women,' claims Mohammed. 'It only served to increase the number of second, third or fourth marriages for Gulf men.'
She says many women were also left behind when the situation in the country changed. ‘I am ready to marry a Syrian girl and let her live with my family as if she is one of them, until the situation gets better,’ one reader comments. This quote seems to confirm activists’ fear that some men see it as a temporary marriage.

Don't abuse the needy

Many comments on the internet refer to such ‘cheap’ marriages as 'abuse of the suffering of the Syrian people', while others see it as a legal marriage with the consent of the bride.

But as one reader puts it, 'if we really want to help them, we have to provide them with their daily needs such as food and clothing, then wait until God relieves their situation and they can go home. Only then, we will go to their houses and ask permission to marry their daughters, like we used to do.'