DAMASCUS, Syria, April 6 (UPI) -- The rise in reports of sexual and gender-based violence is a growing concern for officials with U.N. agencies working with Iraqi refugees in Syria.
"We have noticed a problem with both physical and emotional abuse," said Carole Laleve with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. "The number of cases coming to our attention has risen, but that may be due to an increased willingness to seek help."
Officials said there is little statistical analysis on the level of gender and sexually motivated violence, but firsthand accounts and local reports suggest there is an increase among the Iraqi refugee population in Syria, the U.N. humanitarian news agency, IRIN, reports.
Accounts of rape, sexual exploitation and forced prostitution rose to around 13 per week in 2008, the report said. U.N. officials said that as the refugee population faces increased hardships, members of the community may resort to violence against minority groups as a means of vetting their frustrations.
Tradition and culture may also play a role, as women are increasingly becoming the breadwinners among the refugee population.
Meanwhile, homosexuals in Iraq face continued persecution as six gay men were gunned down over the past 10 days following a decision by tribal leaders in Sadr City.