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In Syria, the Mafia Profits From Kidnapping Newborns and Trafficking Organs

Besides smuggling weapons and refugees, selling children and organ harvesting are two sources of income for mafia in the Syrian civil war.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Syrian children who fled with their families from the violence in their village, at a displaced camp in the Syrian village of Atmeh, near the Turkish border with Syria, Nov. 8, 2012.
Syrian children who fled with their families from the violence in their village, at a displaced camp in the Syrian village of Atmeh, near the Turkish border with Syria, Nov. 8, 2012.Credit: AP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

There is no limit to the income sources the war in Syria provides various mafia branches. Smuggling arms and refugees to Europe have long been a well-known and widespread source. Another “humanitarian” source is the acquisition of women taken captive by ISIS, for which generous men are sometimes willing to pay $20,000 per woman, thereby funding the organization’s operations.

But a particularly upsetting branch is the trade in children and organs. The chairman of the Syrian doctor’s association reported last week that five members of his organization lost their licenses because it turned out they were engaging in such trade.

A new method of selling children begins while they are still in utero. Pregnant Syrian women are transferred to Lebanon, where they are promised comfortable birthing conditions. Immediately after birth, the children are taken from them and sold to adoptive parents for thousands of dollars. In other instances, their organs are removed for transplanting. Sometimes these women get pregnant after being raped or engaging in prostitution, so selling their children is a convenient socioeconomic solution, which can also save them from a so-called honor killing.

According to reports on Facebook, armed people are roaming Syria’s clinics and hospitals offering doctors considerable sums to locate good candidates for removing organs. The phenomenon is also spreading in areas under rebel control, and private clinics, which have basic medical equipment, are being used to remove organs as orders come in from around the world.

Organ traders do not try to hide their activity, and they use Facebook or Twitter to order organs from anyone interested in donating. Some potential donors publish ads in the form of “interested in donating a kidney for a trip to Europe. I am a healthy person, without any sicknesses or viruses.” The potential kidney donor’s medical details then appear.

One Syrian citizen recalled that he was happy to sell his organ for $1,000, which allowed him to support his family for two months. A Syrian refugee who stayed in Egypt sold his kidney for $3,000, and the money funded his wedding and a trip to Turkey, where he is staying. Thus, a satanic axis has been created, in which Syrian refugees are forced to sell their organs to the organ mafia to fund their escape to Europe via the smuggling mafia.

Turkey, because of its proximity to Syria, has become one of the most active centers of the organ trade. The dealers are assisted by contacts in Syria, whose role is to visit hospitals and identify potential sellers. When a seller is located, his details are transferred to the dealer in Turkey, who locates the buyer and coordinates the payment as well as the organ transfer.

The Syrian Health Ministry estimates that at least 18,000 people have undergone organ removal during four years of war, and only a few organ dealers have been sued. The ministry does not say that due to the mass exodus of Syrian doctors hospitals in Syria are operating in substandard conditions. Doctors who remain do not earn enough to support themselves. Selling organs or providing information about pregnant women who do not want their children are significant ways of supplementing their salaries.

In at least one case it appears that members of the Syrian military also engage in the organ trade. In the Damascus suburb Douma the Islamic Army, one of the biggest ruling militias in the area, executed 17 members of the Syrian army on charges of organ trading. The secret was discovered in this case after a worker named Abu Amar was injured at his job and brought to a local clinic, where he said that he had one kidney. After a brief investigation, he said who had conducted the surgery, and within a few days the alleged organ traders were caught and executed in a city square.

International aid organizations and the refugee assistance agency know these phenomena all too well, but usually they lack the power to prevent them because of problems of accessibility to hospitals and clinics, or because civilians and refugees avoid providing information about surgeries they underwent, even if their organs were stolen from them while they were in hospital.

The United Nations continues to provide shocking data about the number of poor, refugees, cases of rape and numbers of child refugees. The data usually generate headlines for a day, until they are replaced by statistics about bodies of refugees that were lost in their journey to Europe or about the number of killed by a bombing of Syrian population centers.

There is no methodical attempt to fight the organ trade. There is no one to provide psychological or psychiatric care to the hundreds of thousands of injured children and their families. Nor is there anyone who will stop the trade in babies born into the war.

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