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Home / Blog / A Sign of Desperation: Syrian Refugees are Selling Their Organs
May 08, 2017

A Sign of Desperation: Syrian Refugees are Selling Their Organs

The BBC reports that organ trafficking is a flourishing business in Lebanon as desperate Syrian refugees sell parts of their bodies to try to survive. One Syrian boy—whose father and brothers were killed in Syria—sold his kidney to help support his mother and five sisters. Another refugee sold his eye.  

Refugees are largely prohibited from working legally in Lebanon and other frontline refugee-hosting countries. This rights deprivation, along with the lack of assistance and routes to safety, has driven many Syrian refugees to embark on dangerous journeys to Europe, as Human Rights First detailed in a February 2016 report. It also creates fertile territory for traffickers in the organ, labor, and sex trades, who prey on vulnerable refugees, including young children.

Speaking about the Syrian refugee crisis, Ivanka Trump, recently named assistant to the President, said, “I think there is a global humanitarian crisis that’s happening, and we have to come together and we have to solve it.” When asked whether that solutions includes U.S. resettlement of Syrian refugees, she said, “That has to be part of the discussion. But that’s not going to be enough in and of itself.”

It’s not clear, however, that Ivanka Trump’s views will alter her father’s harsh, anti-refugee rhetoric and policies. His attempt to indefinitely ban Syrian refugees from U.S. resettlement through executive orderundermines efforts to encourage other countries to do more to address the refugee crisis and abandons the nations that host the overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees by not adequately supporting them through resettling a small portion of those refugees.

It also harms the United States. Former national security leaders and former military leaders who have served both Democratic and Republican administration have stressed—again and again—that resettling refugees is not only consistent with American ideals; it also advances U.S. national security interests. 

To effectively address the Syrian refugee crisis, the United States and the international community must take a comprehensive approach that employs multiple complementary strategies. These steps include increased humanitarian aid, strategic investments in refugee-hosting states, respect for the right of refugees to work and cross borders to secure protection, and a significant boost in refugee resettlement and other safe and orderly routes to protection. Human Rights First detailed the elements of a comprehensive refugee response in reports issued in February and September 2016.

The U.S. government has the capacity to alleviate the suffering of refugees and at the same time make the United States stronger. What’s missing is the will to put actual U.S. interests above the politics of fear.