Rising poverty ushers spike in Turks looking to sell organs

Searches for the phrase ‘I want to sell my kidney’ in Turkey have gone up by 400 percent in one year while searches for unemployment benefits saw a massive spike of 5,000 percent, daily BirGün reported on Sunday.

Searches for organ sales were most frequent in the country’s three major provinces, with western Izmir topping the list. Megacity Istanbul and capital Ankara followed Izmir.

Turkey restricts live organ transplants to between close relatives and from donors who have been vetted by the Health Ministry’s ethics councils. Removing a person’s organs is punishable by up to nine years in prison, and selling or facilitating the sale of organs brings the same sentence.

“Persons in economic troubles contact the Turkish Kidney Foundation (TBV) to sell their kidneys,” the TBV said in an older article. “Those in dire situations seek this out without knowing it is a crime.”

Police in Istanbul detained several foreign nationals on Saturday for two separate counts of organ trafficking, daily Hürriyet reported.

In the first incident, two Syrian nationals were released on parole for attempting to buy and sell a kidney, while the Jordanian facilitator was arrested and sent to prison. The Syrian nationals had not known each other but told a hospital’s ethics council that they had been friends for 14 years.

Meanwhile donor and receiver duo, Russian J.B. and Kazakh M.B., were detained alongside a Ukrainian national who facilitated the sale. All three were arrested in the sale that would have cost $10,000.

The Turkish lira lost 44 percent of its value in 2021, and official youth unemployment in the country rose to 22.3 percent in January. Actual figures are estimated much higher. The country is also struggling with the highest inflation in two decades, and seeking measures to lower it.

Poverty rates rose to 12.2 percent in 2020 from 2019’s 10.2 as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic started to show, according to Bloomerg HT, and considering the 48.7 percent inflation in January 2022, the rate has likely spiked further.

Terms that saw a search spike of more than 5,000 percent include ‘unemployment benefits conditions’, and ‘lowest unemployment benefits’.

The terms ‘poverty threshold’, ‘hunger threshold’, ‘poverty alimony for women’, and ‘Deep Poverty Network’, the name of a grassroots anti-poverty organisation, saw spikes ranging between 5,000 percent and 100 percent.

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