MS Risk Blog

The Middle East’s Thriving Illegal Organ Trade

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“I exploit people, that’s what I do… Some of my clients would have died anyway.”

Trade in illegal organs is a booming business in Lebanon as desperate Syrian refugees resort to selling body parts to support themselves and their families, according to a report by the BBC. A trafficker who brokers deals from a coffee shop in Beirut, identified as Abu Jaafar, said while he knew his business was illegal, he saw it as helping people in need.

Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, at least 1.5 million people have moved to Lebanon, where they make up around a quarter of the country’s population. Many have no legal right to work and families are forced to find other ways to pay for food, shelter and healthcare. According to a report published in June, some 70 percent of refugees in Lebanon are living below the poverty line.

“Those who are not registered as refuges are struggling,” Jaafar said, “what can they do? They are desperate and have no other means to survive but to sell their organs.” Jaafar said in the last three years he has arranged the sale of organs from some 30 refugees. “They usually ask for kidneys, yet I can still find and facilitate other organs,” he said. “They once asked me for an eye, and I was able to acquire a client willing to sell his eye.”

The Middle East is becoming a hotspot in international organ trade, where the influx of refugees desperate to earn money is providing a new market for brokers, shifting focus from China and the Philippines, according to the BBC report. Most refugees aren’t allowed to work under Lebanese law, and many families barely get by. Among the most desperate are Palestinians who were already considered refugees in Syria, and so are not eligible to be re-registered by the UN refugee agency when they arrive in Lebanon. They live in overcrowded camps and receive very little aid.

Across the Middle East there’s a shortage of organs for transplant, because of cultural and religious objections to organ donation. Most families prefer immediate burial.

A similar story came to light from Iraq in 2016.

According to a different BBC report, gangs in the country are offering up to $10,000 US for a kidney, and have been increasingly targeted the country’s poor. Almost a quarter of the country’s population live in abject poverty – according to World Bank statistics – and some destitute families are actively seeking out organ traders.

“The phenomenon is so widespread that authorities are not capable of fighting it,” Firas al-Bayati, a human rights lawyer, told the BBC. “I have personally dealt over the past three months with 12 people who were arrested for selling their kidneys. And poverty was the reason behind their acts.”

Under Iraqi law only relatives are allowed to donate organs their organs to one and other. The trafficking of organs is strictly prohibited, with penalties ranging from three years in prison to death.

In January 2017, it was revealed that IS has been recruiting foreign doctors to harvest the internal organs from their own dead fighters and living hostages, including children abducted from minority populations in Syria and Iraq. The organs are then sold on the black market in the worldwide human organ trafficking trade in order to fund their terror operations.