By Madison Feser
Violence is threatening their lives, forcing them from their homes, and making them refugees in foreign countries. As a result, displaced Syrians are turning to organ trafficking. Born out of desperation to provide for their families, an estimated 20,000 Syrians have illegally sold their organs since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 according to News Deeply.
Hussein Nofal, head of the Department of Forensic Medicine at Damascus University, told News Deepy that within Lebanon and Turkey, trafficking operations normally occur in and around overcrowded and impoverished Syrian refugee camps. Within Syria itself, they operate along border towns outside the reach of the Assad regime and the Islamic State’s control.
Preying on the most vulnerable, organ traffickers’ offer struggling Syrians a quick, albeit life threatening, way to make money in their current conditions. One such trafficker who operates out of Beruit, known by the alias Abu Jaafar, told BBC that his “business is booming” and that he knows of at least seven other organ traffickers in Lebanon alone. Middle East organ trade has surged so drastically that Thomson Reuters reports it has taken the spotlight off China and the Philippines, previous hubs for organ trafficking.
One of Jaafar’s clients, a 17-year- old Syrian boy, sold his kidney for around $8,000 to pay his family’s debts and support his mother and five sisters, reports BBC. They fled to Lebanon from Syria three years ago after his father and brothers were killed in the conflict. Jaafar says that most surgeries occur in cheaply rented houses that are modified into temporary clinics. However, refugees are sometimes flown to other countries using false paperwork so traffickers can avoid the risks of shipping illegal organs across international borders. After these operations are performed, victims often suffer from life-threatening complications with no way to receive treatment due to their non-legal status.
“I don’t really care if the client dies as long as I got what I wanted,” Jaafar told BBC. “It’s not my problem what happens next as long as the client gets paid.” Because organ donations through hospitals and clinics are legal, as is the case with many countries, traffickers have a loophole they can easily exploit. Flyers are hung around cities pleading for organ donations that will save lives of those affected by the conflict, and all list a phone number that lead to people like Jaafar.
Ahmad al-Sayyed, the Attorney General of Damascus, told News Deeply that constraints on government resources leave Syrian officials unable to investigate the ads or determine if payment was given in exchange for these supposed donations. Like Nofal, al-Sayyed also claims that much of the trafficking within Syria occurs in towns that have been decimated by violence, leaving no rule of law to stop their exploitation of Syrian people. Murhaf al-Muallem, director of the Consultative Center for Studies and Human Rights, told News Deeply that desperate Syrian refugees, understaffed Syrian officials, and even the dealers themselves are not responsible for the rise in organ trade.
According to his organization, the real instigators are countries like Lebanon that are not allowing refugees to enter the workforce. “The center blames Syria’s neighboring countries for the situation, since they are not providing Syrian refugees with protection or job opportunities, which has led many of them to sell their own organs in order to provide for their families,” he claims. “Their poverty made them easy victims for the organ trade mafias.”
While many Syrians are forced into situations conducive to consensual organ sales, involuntary organ harvesting may also be on the rise, reports Reuters. A fatwa issued by ISIS leadership that allows for the harvesting of organs. The ruling in question was discovered by U.S. ground forces during a raid, and states that “The apostate’s life and organs don’t have to be respected and may be taken with impunity.” Who qualifies as an apostate is up to the Islamic State Group’s own discretion. With consensual and nonconsensual organ harvesting on the rise as a result of the refugee crisis, the future looks ever bleaker for the country’s stateless people.