Desperate Syrian refugees in Lebanon are having to sell their body organs to support themselves and their families, an investigation into organ trafficking revealed earlier this week.
An organ trafficker who brokers deals from a coffee shop in Beirut spoke to the BBC about his illicit and gruesome work, which he called a “booming business” due to the desperate state of the growing Syrian refugee community in the country.
“I exploit people, that’s what I do,” the man, identified as Abu Jaafar, told the BBC.
“I know what I’m doing is illegal but I’m helping people, that’s how I see it.
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“The client is using the money to seek a better life for himself and his family,” he said, adding: “Some of my clients would have died anyway”.
Abu Jaafar said he mostly receives requests for kidneys, but he also finds and facilities requests for other organs.
“They once asked for an eye, and I was able to acquire a client willing to sell his eye.”
As a middleman, Abu Jaafar would take his willing clients, blindfolded, to a secret location where a doctor would perform surgery – often in makeshift clinics set up in rented properties.
He told the BBC he would then look after the donor for about one week, until the stitches are removed.
“The moment they lose the stitches we don’t care what happens to them any longer. I don’t really care if the [donor] dies, I got what I wanted,” he told the BBC.
Abu Jaafar claimed to have facilitated the sale of organs harvested from about 30 refugees in the past three years.
He refused to disclose how much he made from each deal or give information about where the organs go to, but said there were at least seven other organ traffickers like him who were operating across the country.
Abu Jaafar’s most recent client, a 17-year-old Syrian boy told the BBC he sold his kidney for 6,500 pounds (8,300 US dollars), to pay off debts and rent.
“I already regret it but what can I do,” the teenager said. “I didn’t want to do this but I’m desperate. I had no other choice.”
Since 2011, the Syrian crisis has seen more 600,000 people killed and 12 million people forced out of their homes in one of largest displacements of people since the Second World War.
In that time, more than 1.1 million Syrians sought refuge in neighbouring Lebanon.
With an open-door policy, the country initially welcomed many with open arms, allowing refugees to enter without a visa and to renew residence cards almost free of charge.
Yet as the crisis in Syria continued to unfold, refugees came to make up almost a fifth of the population.
Under local pressure, in January 2015 the Lebanese government passed rules that required Syrians to renew their residency permits with much stricter conditions. The new law inevitably rendered many illegal.
Today, an estimated 70 percent of refugees in Lebanon lack legal status, which among other problems limits their ability to work, access education and healthcare, or simply move freely without fear of being apprehended by police.
“Those who are not registered as refugees are struggling,” Abu Jaafar told the BBC.
“What can they do? They are desperate and they have no other means to survive but to sell their organs.”