We all know the urban legend: some unfortunate man or woman wakes up in a bathtub, submerged in ice, only to realize that one of their kidneys has been removed á la the 2002 film Dirty Pretty Things. It's a horrifying situation, to be sure, and the truth is, this kind of organ trafficking is not exactly fiction.
Organ theft is a very lucrative black market trade. The victims of this barbaric practice, however, are not the hapless teenagers from the cautionary tales we've all heard; rather, they are the marginalized and impoverished, people who easily fall prey to ruthless criminal organizations (or in some cases, governments).
The stories below are very much true. Real life cases of organ theft are more common that you would think and – as this list illustrates – often much more brutal than you could ever imagine.
ISIS Harvests Organs Of Captives To Treat Their Wounded
ISIS, in its endless streak of inventive malevolence, has naturally ventured into the business of forced organ harvesting. In 2015, a prisoner who had escaped the terrorist group's stronghold in Raqqa, Syria, described in vivid, horrifying detail how his fellow captives were treated like living blood and organ banks.
Prisoners were often told, point blank, that their certain fate was death, and it would be noble for them to donate their organs to more faithful jihadists. Of course, there was really no choice in the matter – these men would be forced to surrender their kidneys and corneas so they could be transplanted into maimed members of ISIS, regardless.
Many of these prisoners were kept alive after the forced surgeries, so that they could be further harvested at a later date. It's a slow, agonizing death that eventually found these victims; meanwhile, those not strong enough to donate were simply tortured to death.
Indian Man Wakes Up Without A Kidney
The story told by Mohammad Salim Khan is really something befitting a horror film. Waking up in a weary haze in an unfamiliar house on the outskirts of Delhi, India, Khan was greeted by a stranger in a surgical mask and gloves. As he begin to ask where he was and what had happened, he was told very curtly, "[your] kidney has been removed."
Mr. Khan's traumatic tale is unfortunately not a rarity, as poor laborers like him – lured by the false promise of work – are often preyed upon by illegal organ harvesters. In some instances, these donors are offered a paltry sum for their organs, but, in other cases, they are simply mutilated against their will.
Khan's surgeon gave him a warning that didn't mince words: "If you tell anyone that your kidney has been removed at this very place or if you tell anyone that your kidney has been removed at all, there is a man who is following you who will shoot you."
Though it was too little, too late in some respects, authorities raided the house where Khan was being held just a few hours after his surgery. As it would turn out, he had fallen victim to a scam in which his kidney was to be sold to an American couple that was seeking to circumvent the long wait of transplant lists in the US.
Snatching Organs In The Sinai Desert
A 2011 CNN Documentary called Death in the Desert revealed a grim human trafficking practice taking place in north Africa. As displaced refugees from Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea were attempting to cross the Sinai Desert into Israel, the perils of the arid, unforgiving terrain proved secondary to the awful fate that met of some of these weary travelers, as they found themselves sold into the black market organ trade.
Kidnapped by some Bedouin tribes of the region, these refugees – frequently tortured and raped while in captivity – were often used for extortion of overseas relatives. In the event of a failure to secure funds from desperate family members, the kidnapped men and women were frequently sold off to organ harvesters.
Surgeons from Cairo willing to do this off-the-books work would travel to the desert, paying anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000 for kidneys, livers, and eyeballs from living donors. With the help of mobile refrigeration units, these organs would then be brought back to Egypt's capital city to be resold.
Human rights workers uncovered a high number of discarded bodies in the area bearing surgical scars. Medical experts, when shown pictures of the corpses, verified that these surgeries took place while the victims were still alive.
Migrant Worker In Qatar Gets Unwanted Surgery
The slave-like treatment of migrant workers in the oil-rich nation of Qatar has been well-documented. As the grueling hours and grim living conditions have claimed over 1,000 lives by some estimates, the promise of work – much of which is due to a controversial 2022 World Cup bid – still attracts desperate laborers from India, Nepal, Indonesia, and elsewhere. And while the prospect of working one's self to death is horrifying enough, some workers who don't perish on the job are finding themselves unwittingly surrendering their organs.
Sri Rabitah, a 25-year-old migrant worker from North Lombok, Indonesia, began to have suspicions that something in her body was not right when she left Doha, Qatar, in 2014. Besieged by pain on the right side of her waist, Rabitah had an X-ray taken that revealed a stunning reality – she was missing a kidney.
Working in Qatar as a personal assistant for a Palestinian woman named "Madam Gada," Rabitah recalled that, in July of 2014, she was suddenly rushed to a hospital – though she was suffering no ailment – and forced into sedation. When she awoke, she was full of tubes and urinating blood. Shortly thereafter, Gada deemed the woman unfit for work, and she returned to Indonesia.
In 2015, amidst reports of widespread abuse, Indonesia issued a permanent ban on sending women to the Middle East as domestic workers.
China Is Harvesting Mass Amounts Of Organs From Its Prisoners
Though claims from officials in Beijing paint China as having the largest voluntary organ donation system in Asia, a report that surfaced in 2016 suggests that the acquisition process is actually much more nefarious. The report – assembled by a Canadian lawmaker, a human rights lawyer, and an independent journalist – found that adding up the transplant numbers from just a few hospitals easily surpassed China's reported official number of 10,000 for the year 2015. This discrepancy, the authors claim, is due to mass organ harvesting from China's executed prisoners taking place.
China does not disclose the number of executions it carries out annually, but human rights group Amnesty International claims the figure is more than all other nations with the death penalty combined. This wealth of corpses is certainly fertile ground for organ harvesting, a practice China has acknowledged in the past but now claims to have moved away from.
The imprisoned, and ultimately condemned, are largely ethnic and religious minorities at odds with the communist state. One such group in that category would be practitioners of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong, whom the report details as being forced to undergo blood tests and medical exams. The information forcibly obtained from those detainees is then stored in an organ transplant database, serving as a catalog of prisoners who could be killed should a transplant be necessary.
Organ Thieves Prey On Nepalese Villagers
Organ trafficking is an incredibly lucrative global enterprise, generating an estimated $500 million to $1 billion annually. In this bloody black market trade, the most in-demand organ is the kidney, of which roughly 7,000 are illegally acquired every year, often from poor, unsuspecting populations. One such group being preyed upon by organ traffickers is the residents of Kavre, a small district outside of Kathmandu known as Nepal's "Kidney Bank."
Since 2010, over 300 people in Kavre have reported falling victim to kidney traffickers. One of these victims, a man named Nawaraj Pariyar, relayed to CNN how he was duped by harvesters in heartbreaking fashion.
In 2000, Pariyar, a farmer who also picks up seasonal labor work, was approached by his foreman at a construction site and promised 30 lakhs, which comes out to about $30,000, for the removal of a "hunk of meat" from his body. The foreman assured Pariyar that the meat would grow back, a promise that the impoverished, uneducated man believed. He was then taken – under a fake name – across the border to a hospital in India where a procedure took place.
Unaware of what was performed on him, Pariyar was discharged and given 20,000 Nepali rupees, which is about 1% of what he was promised. Upon returning to Nepal, he began having back and urinary problems, which took him to a doctor who discovered that he was missing a kidney. Pariyar was never given the remaining balance of the funds he was promised.
Serbian Prisoners Subjected To Organ Removal During Kosovo Conflict
The Kosovo conflict of 1999-2000 claimed the lives of nearly 10,000 people as Albanian Rebels and Serbian forces clashed in the southeastern European territory. The Kosovo Liberation Army rebels – an ethinic-Albanian paramilitary organization – sought to cleanse Kosovo of its ethnic Serb population, and the ensuing conflict resulted in atrocities and war crimes that have brought some members of the KLA to face charges at the Hague.
In a 2012 interview with Serbia's war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic, one KLA witness described in horrifying detail a medical procedure he was forced to perform on a kidnapped Serb in northern Albania:
"They gave me a scalpel. I put my left hand on his chest and began cutting. When I got near the bottom (of the ribs), the blood started pouring. As soon as I started cutting, he began screaming not to kill him and then he lost consciousness. I don't know if he fainted or died."
The witness described the victim as being in his mid 20s and claimed that he was accompanied by two doctors as he performed the surgery.
"We cut veins and when I took the heart, it was still beating, " the witness said. The organ was then placed in a cooler for transport.
Though the KLA has long been suspected of being involved in wartime organ trafficking, they have steadfastly denied these claims.
Egyptian Crime Ring Buys Migrants For Parts
In 2015, aid organizations in Italy revealed that nearly 10,000 refugees, many of whom were children, had vanished from the country without a trace. Though it was widely suspected that the missing people had simply moved into other parts of Europe, it later came to light that some of them likely met a much darker fate.
An Eritrean human trafficker who was apprehended by Italian authorities in 2014 revealed to investigators a grim reality that likely accounted for some of those disappearances. Unable to pay their debts to their traffickers, the man – who is now hiding in Italy's witness protection program – explained that refugees were frequently sold off for their organs in order to recoup funds. The buyers, he stated, were members of an Egyptian crime ring that would pay up to 30,000 Euros per donor.
The refugee victims were often killed in the harvesting process, as multiple organs were typically taken. With the hearts and kidneys that were removed sent into the wealthy European black market, the dead were then dumped into the sea or buried in ditches en masse.