Turkish Women Worry Their Men Will Marry Syrian Refugees

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Turkish Women Worry Their Men Will Marry Syrian Refugees
Thu 11-09-2014

Sundays usually mean brisk business for Turkish hairdressers. In the town of Reyhanli, on the Syrian border, a small shop is bustling with excited future brides and their relatives waiting to be styled for weddings and engagement parties.

The owner, Hatice Utku, is perming the hair of a woman who looks unusually sombre. Unlike the other customers, she is not accompanied by family members.

"A Syrian bride," Utku explains, sounding slightly disgruntled.

"We are getting a lot of those now." One of her colleagues chips in: "They are stealing our husbands."

It is three days since Aminah, 27, from Idlib in Syria, first met her 43-year-old Turkish husband-to-be through a matchmaker.

"He divorced his first wife and wanted to marry again," Aminah says timidly.

"He has a house and a job in Ankara. My family in Syria has nothing left. He will provide for me."

Aminah is one of an increasing number of Syrian refugees who opt to marry Turkish men.

Women's rights groups are worried: "A lot of women agree to these marriages out of sheer desperation. All they think about is how to feed their family, how to make ends meet. These arrangements might seem like the only way out, and men exploit this," says one activist from Gaziantep, who wished to remain anonymous.

"At the same time, local women feel helpless and anxious about their own families breaking apart. Women on both sides of the border become victims this way."

Dr Mohamed Assaf, who works at a Syrian-run medical centre in Kilis, says almost 4,000 Syrian women have married Turkish men in the town since he arrived in 2012.

Dr Reemah Nana, a gynaecologist at the clinic, says patients with Turkish husbands sometimes complain about domestic violence, but in general, marriages are happy. Asked about sexual abuse, she concedes: "We hear of cases, but most women don't want to talk about it."

The women's rights activist explains a worrying trend: "Local women are anxious. The constant fear of losing their husbands puts a lot of pressure on them. Domestic violence, threats, psychological pressure and abuse from their spouses have increased. We notice a rise in mental illness, especially depression, but the topic is not being addressed by the authorities."

She says her organisation tries to assist Turkish and Syrian women: "We do house visits where we discuss this issue with the women here. We try to convince them to put the blame where it belongs. In order to counter this male opportunism, women from both sides of the border need to stick together."