25 April 2017
There's a glint of pride in Abu Jaafar's
eyes as he explains what he does for a living.
He used to work as a security guard in a
pub but then he met a group which trades in organs. His job is to find people
desperate enough to give up parts of their body for money, and the influx of
refugees from Syria to Lebanon has created many opportunities.
"I do exploit people," he says,
though he points out that many could easily have died at home in Syria, and that
giving up an organ is nothing by comparison to the horrors they have already
"I'm exploiting them," he says,
"and they're benefitting."
His base is a small coffee shop in one of
the crowded suburbs of southern Beirut, a dilapidated building covered by a
At the back, a room behind a rusty
partition is stuffed with old furniture and has budgerigars singing in cages in
From here he has arranged the sale of
organs from about 30 refugees in the last three years, he says.
"They usually ask for kidneys, yet I
can still find and facilitate other organs", he says.
"They once asked for an eye, and I was
able to acquire a client willing to sell his eye.
"I took a picture of the eye and sent
it to the guys by Whatsapp for confirmation. I then delivered the client."
The narrow streets in which he operates are
crammed with refugees. Around one in four people in Lebanon today have fled the
conflict across the border in Syria.
Most 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.
Almost as vulnerable are those who arrived
from Syria after May 2015, when the Lebanese government asked the UN to stop
registering new refugees.
"Those who are not registered as
refugees are struggling," Abu Jaafar says. "What can they do? They
are desperate and they have no other means to survive but to sell their
Some refugees beg on the streets -
particularly children. Young boys shine shoes, dodge between cars in traffic
jams to sell chewing gum or tissues through the windows, or end up exploited as
child labour. Others turn to prostitution.
But selling an organ is one way to make
Once Abu Jaafar has found a willing
candidate he drives them, blindfolded, to a hidden location on a designated
Sometimes the doctors operate in rented
houses, transformed into temporary clinics, where the donors undergo basic
blood tests before surgery.
"Once the operation is done I bring
them back," he says.
"I keep 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, I got what I wanted. It's not my problem what happens next as long as the
client got paid."
His most recent client was a 17-year-old
boy who left Syria after his father and brothers were killed there.
He's been in Lebanon for three years with
no work and mounting debt, struggling to support his mother and five sisters.
So, through Abu Jaafar, he agreed to sell
his right kidney for $8,000 (£6,250).
Two days later, clearly in pain despite
taking tablets, he was alternately lying down and sitting up on a tattered
sofa, trying to get comfortable.
His face was covered in a sheen of sweat
and blood had seeped through his bandages.
Abu Jaafar won't reveal how much he made
from the deal. He says he doesn't know what happens to the organs after they
have been removed, but he thinks they're exported.
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.
But Abu Jaafar claims there are at least
seven other brokers like him operating across Lebanon.
"Business is booming," he says.
"It's growing and not decreasing. It definitely boomed after the Syrian
migration to Lebanon."
He knows what he does is against the law
but doesn't fear the authorities. In fact he is brazen about it. His phone
number is spray-painted on the walls near his home.
In his neighbourhood, he is both respected
and feared. As he walks around people stop to joke and argue with him.
He has a handgun tucked under his leg as we
"I know that what I am doing is
illegal but I am helping people", he says.
"That's how I perceive it. The client
is using the money to seek a better life for himself and his family.
"He's able to buy a car and work as a
taxi driver or even travel to another country.
"I am helping those people and I don't
care about the law."
In fact, he says, it's the law that lets
many refugees down by restricting access to work and aid.
"I am not forcing anyone to undertake
the operation," he says. "I am only facilitating based on someone's
He lights a cigarette and raises an
"How much for your eye?" he asks.
Abu Jaafar is not his real name - he would
only agree to talk to the BBC on condition of anonymity.