Saturday, February 09, 2019


Desperate to reach Europe, migrants from Africa are travelling to Egypt and selling body parts to pay for their passage.

“I thought it would be a good way of getting money fast and travelling to Europe,” says Dawitt. “I was worried, but he convinced me that it is a very easy operation and you can live a normal life with one kidney. It was a lot of money. How could I say no to $5,000 when I have nothing and my family need help?”

According to a 2018 report, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has collected data on 700 incidents of organ trafficking, primarily from north Africa and the Middle East. Yet these figures are conservative, at best. The true scale of the industry is difficult to assess, as the majority of cases go unreported, with victims reluctant to come forward for fear of deportation, arrest or shame. The trade appears to be flourishing in Egypt, bolstered by an EU-funded clampdown on refugees by security forces. There, the hostile environment created by the arbitrary detention of migrants, and the hike in smugglers’ fees, is creating a perfect opportunity for unscrupulous organ brokers who prey on those desperate to raise funds to cross the Mediterranean.

Figures released by the European Commission in 2018 indicate that fewer people are now escaping to Europe via the north Egyptian coast. Yet while the number of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees crossing Egypt’s central Mediterranean route has decreased, the de facto closing of borders has pushed people to further extremes, increasing the hold of criminal networks. Intent on leaving Egypt by any means, migrants are being targeted for organ sale. In response to a government crackdown, smugglers operating out of Egypt and Libya have raised fees from $1,500 to $3,500 (£1,160 to £2,710) to maintain profits. Unable to finance travel, people smugglers are referring migrants to organ brokers in Cairo to raise the necessary capital.

“People can pay less than the asking price [of $3,500] but if you do this, you’re like a third-class passenger,” he advises. “These ones can end up in detention centres where they will only be released if they agree to work or sell their bodies for sex.”

“There are some people who only care about getting the money. They don’t care if you arrive at your destination or end up dying at sea. This is why I advise people to make the payment in advance, even if that means selling a kidney.”

A law banning organ sales was introduced in 2010 but has pushed the trade further underground. Asha, from Sudan, explains how she was recruited in Khartoum and taken to Cairo. “They said they would find me work and then they would take me to Italy. I did not trust these men, but it was impossible for me to stay in Khartoum. My children were sick from not eating. So, I listened to them.”

When she arrived in Cairo, Asha was told that she would not be going to Europe. Instead she would be “donating” her kidney. She was promised $2,000 if she complied. If not, the men said, they would take her kidney by force. After surgery, Asha reported one of the brokers to the police. He was arrested and held for 30 days, then released without charge. In July 2018, a statement from the Egyptian Health Ministry announced that 37 people had been found guilty by an Egyptian court on charges related to illicit trading in human organs. There was no mention of the victims.

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