Tip sheet: Data indicate Syrian refugee organ sales appear to benefit terror groups

Syrian refugees who sell their organs to provide for their displaced families are indirectly supporting terrorist organizations, said George Mason University professor Duminda Wijesekera.

Wijesekera, who has studied international money laundering for more than 10 years, said it is impossible to confirm exactly who is exchanging the funds and which terror organizations are profiting, but it is clear from the data that victims who deal with third-party brokers receive very little of the cash while terror groups profit.

Prices for human kidneys on the Turkish black market can reach $75,000, according to Campbell Fraser, an Australia-based human trafficking expert who has worked with George Mason researchers on the topic.

Mason professor Emily Ihara, whose expertise is in health inequities, said that the problem of organ trafficking is directly related to the increasing gap between the availability of organs and the demand.

“The global burden of chronic kidney disease increases each year and accounts for the increased demand for organ transplants,” she said. While the long-term solution is to prevent conditions such as diabetes that lead to chronic kidney disease, international policies regarding organ donation “provide an opportunity for criminals to capitalize on this demand, particularly targeting vulnerable populations such as refugees and those in poverty.”

Organ sales are also taking place in other parts of the Middle East, particularly Egypt, said Naoru Koizumi, associate director of Mason’s Center for the Study of International Medical Policies and Practices.

“Data show a clear trend that the sellers [of organs] are Syrians,” Koizumi said. “The practice has increased drastically in recent years,” coinciding with the Syrian civil war.

Duminda Wijesekera, who teaches at Mason’s Volgenau School of Engineering, can be reached at dwijesek@gmu.edu and 703-993-5030.

Emily Ihara, who teaches at Mason’s College of Health and Human Services, can be reached at eihara@gmu.edu and 703-993-2023.

Naoru Koizumi, who teaches at Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government, can be reached at nkoizumi@gmu.edu and 703-993-8380.

For more information, contact Buzz McClain at 703-727-0230 or bmcclai2@gmu.edu.

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George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 35,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.