November 3rd, 2011
08:22 AM ET

Refugees face organ theft in the Sinai

In the second part of his report, CNN's Fred Pleitgen investigates organ trafficking in the Sinai Desert. Read the first part 

Bedouin smugglers involved in people trafficking are also believed to be stealing organs from refugees who are unable to pay their demands for large amounts of cash to take them into Israel.

The New Generation Foundation for Human Rights and the EveryOne Group, from Italy, have presented evidence that the bodies of African refugees have been found in the Sinai desert with organs missing.

The Sawarka Bedouin tribe, one of the largest in Sinai, was named by one Bedouin source as being involved in organ thefts.

A Sawarka leader said he was aware that people trafficking was going on in Sinai and that in some cases refugees were held in bonded labor and tortured. But he added only rogue elements of his tribe were involved.

According to rights groups, refugees - from places like Ethiopia, Eritrea or Sudan - are enslaved and tortured and the women raped if they cannot come up with the large sums of money the Bedouin try to extort from them and their families to smuggle them into Israel.

Among Bedouin leaders in the Sinai, no one was willing to speak openly about the organ theft. Tribal leaders said they knew nothing about it or had only heard rumors.

But Hamdy Al-Azazy, head of New Generation Foundation, has photos showing corpses with distinctive scars in the abdominal area. All the photos were taken in a morgue in the Egyptian port town of El Arish after the bodies were brought there.

Al-Azazy says the organs are taken from refugees while they are still alive. "The organs are not useful if they're dead. They drug them first and remove their organs, then leave them to die and dump them in a deep dry well along with hundreds of bodies."

He says he was once taken to the area where the bodies are dumped after the organ removal process. He says he believes corrupt Egyptian doctors are working with the Bedouins, coming to Sinai with mobile hospital units to perform the operations to remove especially corneas, livers and kidneys.

"Mobile clinics using advanced technology come from a private hospital in Cairo to an area in the deserts of Mid-Sinai and conduct physicals on the Africans before they choose those suitable, then they conduct the operation," Al-Azazy said.

CNN showed some of the photos of the dead to Dr. Fakhry Saleh, the former head of Cairo's forensic department and an expert on the illegal organ trade.

"There are two kinds of scars. One is from a postmortem autopsy and one from surgery," Saleh said, pointing to a scar that he says came from an operation that must have been performed shortly before the person died.

According to Saleh, the operation was conducted no more than 48 hours before death, indicated by the freshness of the scars.

Furthermore, all the scars are in the area of the liver and kidney. "They are good stitches in the area of the liver and the kidney," Saleh said while examining the photos on a laptop.

While Saleh says he has never heard of organ theft involving African refugees, he says it seems highly probable that the scars on the bodies come from organ removal.

"They could open you up, take it out and just let you die. The mafia does not care whether you live or die. When they cut you open, it would be very painful, so they would give you anesthesia," Saleh later said.

Saleh has done extensive research on the illegal organ business in Egypt, which preys on poor people. The World Health Organization in a recent report called Egypt a regional hub for the trade.

An investigation headed by Saleh found illegal organ trafficking to be one of the most profitable criminal activities.

"Organ trade is the second most profitable trade behind only weapons trade," he said. "It brings in more money than drug dealing and prostitution."

One Bedouin tribal chief did put CNN in touch with a Bedouin who used to be involved in people smuggling and who was close to the organ theft scheme. The source spoke on condition of anonymity but offered insights into the scheme.

"The doctors deal directly with the Sawarka family, and they buy the organs starting from $20,000," the source said in a phone interview.

He offered further details of the logistics required to keep the organs fresh for the transplant into their new owners' bodies: "The doctors come with some sort of mobile fridge where the organs can be stored for six to eight hours and resold in Cairo or elsewhere."

The source claimed doctors from Cairo are involved in the organ theft, a claim that has proved impossible to verify.

"It's like spare parts for cars," the Bedouin, who later agreed to meet one member of the CNN crew in person, said sarcastically toward the end of the interview.

A second Bedouin, who also refused to be identified, later gave a similar account.

The police general in charge of security in Northern Sinai tells CNN that his forces are aware that organ trafficking and theft are going on in their area of operations but that the authorities have not identified who is behind the schemes.

soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. evans kinuthia

    This is serious and gross violation of human rights.God help them

    November 4, 2011 at 10:53 am | Reply
  2. driranek

    I'm just waitin' for some southern trailer park resident to suggest we take the useful organs out of illegal aliens before deporting them.

    November 4, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Reply
    • T

      Driranek,u will be the next victim as well as your generation trust me

      November 9, 2011 at 8:18 am | Reply
      • Josh

        trust no one, least of all "T"

        November 11, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
  3. koloh eyewumi

    These are barbaric acts on humans.
    United nations should do something fervent about it.

    November 4, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  4. koloh eyewumi

    These are barbaric acts on humanity. United nations should do something fervent about it.

    November 4, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Reply
    • Antoine

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      March 4, 2012 at 4:47 am | Reply
  5. Abee

    Gosh.......worse this is than the barbaric days of prehistory.Countries that pose themselves to be so concerned about world peace and well-being gota do something urgent in this,so that this inhuman crime does'nt occur again.

    November 5, 2011 at 5:29 am | Reply
  6. Enoch

    And the world is silent, silent and silent - besides, the US government is still ready to give Egypt 3 billion Dollars!

    November 5, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  7. challenger

    y do the world keep quite for such cruelty!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 6, 2011 at 2:32 am | Reply


    November 6, 2011 at 11:15 am | Reply
    • Priscilla Nakitto

      YES,love is the answer for this world today, may righteousness shine throughout the hearts of men, by the grace of heavenly God,AMEN

      November 12, 2011 at 6:56 am | Reply
    • Hailmariam

      Love means slaughter in arabic/islamic countries like Egypt. We christians have learnt sice our childhood not to kill!

      November 22, 2011 at 1:49 am | Reply
  9. emelda

    My God help urs

    November 6, 2011 at 11:29 am | Reply
    • Gandi

      ljmeyers17 on November 7, 2011 @IMissBritneyAlexI Well it ended may 5th and polpee are still posting their comments, wasn't trying to be offensive, just helpful

      March 4, 2012 at 7:08 am | Reply
    • VhiiahcwEghallay

      Hi, and tankhs for Hi, and tankhs for the question. There is no problem in a room smaller than 700 sq. ft. It will just clean the room more times, which is ideal for asthma problems like I used to have. You might run it on the slower speed (800 sq. ft. is at the high speed which is probably not ideal for sleeping) as the quiet mode in it is probably the best for the bedroom.., Blessings. and most important I hope he gets better.. MR

      March 5, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Reply
  10. Vincent Nyauma

    One word to describe this, "evil". God help us to overcome this 'evil' in our society.

    November 6, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Reply
  11. Olojo Oluwasegun

    I do know that acts like these are still very much around. Issues like this should be given more airtime on TV and more reportage on the pages of print platforms. UN should involve its comity of nations in pushing back the frontier of this kind of barbaric practice.

    November 6, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Reply
  12. J M Honour

    I keep hearing of things like this happening in Nigeria too, but I never knew its for real. UN should arrest this situation fast. Its horrible.

    November 6, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  13. Ayodele Olarewaju

    The world should rise up quick and condemn this evil.

    November 6, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Reply
    • Hailmariam

      "The world should rise up quick and condemn this evil." You are right in the reality. But the world means for me UN and UN exercises ther silence while the victims are slaughteredby the evil traffickers. May be the people are unwanted Africans ! Only Africa is important but not the [indigenious] people.

      November 22, 2011 at 1:54 am | Reply
  14. zamm

    African dictators let their citzens suffer under the hands of these barbaric beduoini/ arab smugglers. Had it not been for the African chimps and dictators who misgovern and abuse humanity, Africa could have been a place to migrate to and not the other way around. Damn these ppl are 2K yrs back.

    November 6, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Reply
  15. najihmuh

    Human can do such an evil! Money, I think is at the end.

    November 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Reply
  16. zainab badaru

    This is pure cruelty, man inhumanity to man. We should all join hand to fight this barbaric act.

    November 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Reply
  17. Michaels chidi.

    Those elements,in power and key offices..who,maintaining a kind of muteness,could secretly be involved,in this deadly-profit-game!

    November 6, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Reply
  18. Dr. Mulugeta Abraham Debesay

    Very sad & disturbing story! I thank the CNN Freedom project & the journalist for exposing this. It is worst than pre-historic barbaric act – to kill human beings & use them source for human body spare parts – like vehicle/machine spare parts. What is sad to note is also the root cause why these refugees take the huge risk ahead & flee their country in exodus – in search of hope of life, job opportunity to support their families at home. If African governments/AU can not act to create job opportunities to minimize this, the exodus won’t stop & the mafias won't stop their actions!

    November 7, 2011 at 2:36 am | Reply
  19. Tony

    I am revulted and nausiated by we as the human race that I represent. "And we shall dominate the earth". And we call them animals. Animals cannot rape their own, cannot profit from their own. It is not even prehistoric, but modern day science that makes these 'Dogs of humanity' thrive on the weak. How low has the human race fallen/stooped? How low have we stooped to allow these atrocities to continue? Take your family to a holiday into Sinia and know that you will come home without a son/daughter. May God/Allah/Hashem find it in His great wisdom to rectify these atrocities and correct the ways of mankind. Yes, we all have freedom of choice, but is our choice wisely chosen? I think not!!

    November 7, 2011 at 4:28 am | Reply
    • Wutzurbeef

      Only a matter of time before it is discovered that life from outer space will do the same for us. How about all the livestock that is found mutilated and without organs? We will be next... we are just emulating it. Sick, yes. But then again our kind has ALWAYS been sick at heart. Sad indeed.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Reply
  20. sobhana bardhan

    Inhumane act.

    November 7, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Reply
  21. zemen_14

    This is a barbaric act, degradation of humanity at its worst scenario. African dictators are the roos cause of these acts. Th UN should act to stop this act for the sake of its name.

    November 7, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Reply
    • Hailmariam

      Yes this is a barbaric act, but worse than this act is the silence of UNHCR&Co who are contributing to the degradation of humanity. Why can not most of the victims be freed till this moment (yes now!) ? They sufer just in this minute. You can convince yourself. UN knows the location where the victims are still tortured by the traffickers in the desert. Yes, the truth is some where in the clouds!

      November 22, 2011 at 1:39 am | Reply
  22. Lsanhaki

    oh! my Almighty God ! do you see your sheep's ?
    human what does it means human ? sorry I do not have any word to express my feeling about this devil things.
    please pry to them and to give peace to shier countries.
    God bless all Ethiopian,Eritrean and Sudan

    November 8, 2011 at 1:47 am | Reply
  23. uram

    This is the Arab and Africa for you, for many years the world toughest army the French foreign legion try to control them. with very little success Anybody in their right mind believe the UN ( the world most useless gathering ) can or willing to do anything? Unfortunately more of this tribe are immigrating to the USA. and Canada.

    November 8, 2011 at 8:03 am | Reply
  24. Yib.

    History as we know it is not static. Fame, paradigm, power and everything shift every time. Stlealing eritreas money and their organs or body parts will have concequences for those smugllers at any time. They must know that the time bomb triggered by any eritreans for the valuable eritreans will not have regrete. Wherever they are the prices will be very sever.

    November 8, 2011 at 8:47 am | Reply
  25. tadesse

    I wounder Where are the human right people? where are they international court?i didnt exepect this kind of things happen this days!

    November 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Reply
    • Hailmariam

      My brother , you are realy honest! Do you still believe in UN? UNHCR is only a tool for the mighty to reach their target smoothly without friction. => If you want to dry a water-starwort, then the frogs must not hear !!!

      November 22, 2011 at 2:20 am | Reply


    November 11, 2011 at 2:04 am | Reply
    • Kasandra

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      March 4, 2012 at 12:24 am | Reply
  27. Josh

    After removing all this major organs, why don't they immediately kill them? Why allow these people to have long, painful, deaths? Do these "doctors" feel better if they can leave their mobile OR's, with these people still clinging to life?

    September 19, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Reply
  28. bigshynepo

    "couldn't identify who was behind the schemes?"
    The article just said there are witnesses accusing the sawarka tribe, go in there, kill them or lock em all up!!!

    I love my friends from the middle east, but I tell them all the time, their region needs to grow up. If it isn't Illegal Reactors, Assassinations, Zionist Extremists, Palestinian Extremists, Iranian Extremists, Syrian Extremists, Espionage, Political Corruption, Collaboration with North Korea, Rioting, Burning Embassies....
    Now Organ Trafficking!?!?!
    All this in the name of Allah or God or whoever. I hope the 72 virgins turn out to be dudes..

    September 19, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Reply
  29. Boris Cherico

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    May 19, 2013 at 11:35 am | Reply

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