x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Not everyone feels sorry for desperate Syrian brides

The willingness to marry a much older man as part of a financial transaction is often an act of survival, but some see it as a calculating move.

The offer comes via BlackBerry Messenger: "If you want to marry a beautiful fair young Syrian woman, contact ..." and a number is provided.

As the conflict in Syria rages on, with no respite in sight, desperation is hitting Syrians hard. And there are many around to take full advantage of it.

But to actually receive a message offering Syrian brides showed me just how bad the situation has now become.

The message was forwarded to me by a friend from Saudi, who said it wasn't the first time he had received such a message in the past year.

"They promise to deliver her to you safe and sound for a fee," he said. "I have a friend of a friend who got himself a young Syrian bride."

In that case the groom is 53, the bride is 19. She has apparently been treated well, so far, and her family will be able to leave their refugee camp and go to Saudi, thanks to her new husband's contacts.

Ultimately, this is why anyone would even consider being married off to an older complete stranger in a different country - to save her loved ones. Such a marriage is a survival contract, and "conflict brides" are tragically good business.

If you Google "Syrian brides" you get sites where you can find people to help you get into refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey to find a "suitable loyal mate".

Type that in Arabic, and you get all sorts of offers. Some sites promise help in both finding a bride and sorting out all the paperwork.

It never ceases to surprise me how even in the world's most dangerous areas, people find a profit.

But in truth all that is new here is the huge scale and the media attention. When I lived in Saudi I heard many stories of older men going to poor villages in Syria to find brides.

The mother of a friend of mine was such a bride. I asked my friend about it recently, and learnt that her father, now deceased, was about 60 when he went to Syria and found her mother, who had just turned 20.

Of course, that case did not have the desperation we see in Syria today. But her mother's family was very poor, the father had a terminal illness and she had eight sisters and a mother desperate to find them a "better future".

It all depends on your definition of happiness. For some, a peaceful home and secure future are enough. My friend's mother began married life without friends or family, but made the most of it over the years and has been relatively happy.

We are not all lucky enough to have choices in life. Sometimes there is only one way out. Nobody should be judged for taking that route.

I remember seeing my friend being picked on by members of the extended family, as "the one with a Syrian mother". People would mention that she had married an older man "for money".

Now I am hearing unkind and judgemental statements all over again about new Syrian brides coming to the Arabian Peninsula states.

When I raised the topic with a group of women from several Gulf states, their reaction showed that they believe Syrian women have plotted and schemed. They were adamant that we should not be "sympathetic" to the Syrians' plight.

"They always want to marry a rich Khaleeji, and now they can use the conflict to their advantage," said a Kuwaiti friend. This harsh-sounding comment had been triggered when she had overheard some Syrian women talking about how it is "easier" to marry Gulf men now.

"One even said she tells men she can't go back to Syria due to the conflict and so she is looking for a husband … here," she said, fuming.

There are different sides to every story. I notice that the men are not blamed as much as the women. But it is the men who are going after Syrian brides, and since they know the women are desperate, they can get them to agree to anything.

Almost every woman dreams of love and a beautiful wedding. The Syrian brides being offered up from camps have lost that dream. Syrians have lost almost all of their dreams.

 

Rghazal@thenational.ae

Twitter: @arabianmau