Migrants, favours, protection, sex: examples from Embracing the Infidel

Laura Agustín's picture

(Posted at Border Thinking on Migration, Trafficking and Commercial Sex)

In Embracing the Infidel Behzad Yaghmaian narrates his journey to record the stories of migrants trying to find a place to settle in Europe. There are women in the book, but the majority of detailed stories are told by men and boys. Many of the plots are about physical hardships encountered whilst being smuggled across borders: Afghanistan to Iran, Iran to Turkey, Turkey to Greece and Bulgaria, France to England.  Long scenes are set in Istanbul, Sofia, Athens, Paris, Calais. Contradictory, arbitrary, frustrating, paper-oriented refugee policy is arguably the book’s main villain, though the sadism of border guards and swindles by smugglers are more dramatic.  I especially appreciate Yaghmaian’s ability to tell terrible stories without falling into a victimising, maudlin tone (the subject of Forget Victimisation).

The sex industry is seldom mentioned, but here are a couple of excerpts that show how some migrants find temporary relief through supplying sexual services. The first excerpt tells about men who find male sexual protectors; in the second the protectors are women. In the latter description, you may detect some ambiguity: is this ‘pure business’ or is love and affection involved, too?

The boys with a baba were sheltered. They were paid good pocket money, wined and dined, and dressed in nice outfits. They were young Iranians and Kurds from northern Iraq, men in their early or late twenties. The Kurds came from the villages, the rugged mountains of northern Iraq. The Iranians arrived from small towns, ghettos of big cities, and poor neighborhoods of the capital. They came with a dream. Many failed. They remained in Athens and became the ‘bar kids’ of Victoria Square. Dressing up in their best, they would frequent the gay bars around the square looking for a baba or a customer in search of sexual pleasure. [p 203]

[In Calais] a few fared better than the rest. In their teens or early twenties, some found love in the arms of older French women, some in their sixties. The women had kind and motherly looks, gave the men love and attention, tucked them in their beds, and slept with them. The young men had the comfort of a home and all that came with it. Sex was the central part of the agreement. There was no shower or clean bed for those failing to deliver. This was a strict business deal, with its own rules and codes of conduct. [p 307]

Embracing the Infidel, Stories of Muslim Migrants on the Journey West, New York: Bantam Dell, 2005.

There is a large literature on inter-generational relationships involving exchanges of sex and protection that are considered traditional and conventional in many parts of the world. One example is Enjo Kosai: Compensated Dating.

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