The war in Syria has yet to see an end, to the despair of countless innocent victims struggling to survive through the conflict. To those who flee, peace is still not a guarantee as many struggle to find a place that will voluntarily accept them as asylum seekers. As a result, many find themselves in miserable conditions, having to sell their organs in black markets in Lebanon to support themselves and their families.
This tragic reality was unearthed by a BBC investigation.
According to the British news organization, a trafficker who brokers deals between desperate refugees and potential buyers said that despite knowing this “booming” business is illegal, he also knows he's helping people in need.
Abu Jaafar, as the trafficker identified himself, spoke to BBC journalist Alex Forsyth in a southern Beirut suburb where he has his base.
“Some of my clients would have died anyway," he coldly said.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, 1.5 million people have found their way into Lebanon. Seventy percent of these refugees live below the poverty line. Without having access to work permits, these refugees are forced to find other ways to make ends meet.
In search for money to pay for food, health care, and shelter, many of these desperate migrants look for alternatives that oftentimes aren't necessarily legal. That's when organ trafficking becomes an appealing idea.
“Those who are not registered as refugees are struggling,” Jaafar explained. “What can they do? They are desperate and they have no other means to survive but to sell their organs.”
In the last three years, Jaafar told BBC, he has helped 30 refugees sell their organs on the black market.
Usually, Jaafar said, they “ask for kidneys, yet I can still find and facilitate other organs.”
In one case, he added, they asked him for an eye. Incredibly enough, he “was able to acquire a client willing to sell his eye,” he told the reporter.
With more than 5 million people displaced by war in Syria, it's easy to see why the Middle East is becoming a hot spot for international organ trade. As more individuals arrive and most remain unable to find work, many will resort to desperate measures to ensure their families survive.
Buyers are usually from around the world, so organs are often exported. Still, many refugee donors use fake papers to fly to nearby countries for surgery.
When people agree to sell their organs, they are blindfolded and then driven to a hidden location where they undergo some basic blood tests. Sometimes, operations happen in rented houses used as temporary clinics, and once they are over, Jaafar drives them back.
After surgery, Jaafar says, he keeps “looking after them for almost a week until they remove the stitches. The moment they lose the stitches we don't care what happens to them any longer."
"I don't really care if the client dies as long as I got what I wanted. It's not my problem what happens next as long as the client gets paid," he added.
One of Jaafar's clients, a 17-year-old boy from Syria, chose to sell his kidney for $8,300 to help take care of his mother and five sisters. He also had to pay a debt.
“I already regret it but what can I do,” the teenager said, complaining of constant pain. “I didn't want to do this but I'm desperate. I had no other choice.”
This is yet another example of how war puts millions of people in danger: First while they struggle to leave conflict areas, and then later when refugees find themselves stuck in a different and hostile country without any means to live in peace.