Banu Şen – Hürriyet / İzmir, June 29 () - Syrians have begun to dominate human smuggling activities in the Aegean Sea that originate in Turkey, police have said amid frequent attempts by refugees set-ting sail across the sea in an effort to reach EU-member Greece.
Turkey has become a destination for migrants looking to illegally enter the European Union both because it sits next door to Syria, which has been ensconced in a brutal civil war for four years, and because it shares borders with EU members Bulgaria and Greece.
In the recent years, one of the most favored routes to the EU has been Turkey’s Aegean region due to its closeness to the Greek islands of the Aegean Sea, while Turkish Coast Guard units have captured tens of hundreds of migrants every day off the coast.
Recent investigations launched into the human trafficking gangs have shown that Syrians have replaced Turks in becoming the key actors in the organizations.
According to the İzmir Police Department, Turks who have recently been caught were discovered to be engaged in undocumented work, while the managers and people controlling the money flow during the smuggling gangs were often discovered to be Syrians.
“Especially in the past few operations we have determined that Syrians are at the top of the organizations” an official from the İzmir Police Department said on condition of anonymity.
“The reason for this is the trust a Syrian has toward a [fellow] Syrian. There were cases where [migrant Syrians who wished to illegally reach the EU] were tricked, fooled or left on a coast other than one of the Greek islands” he said.
An investigation launched by İzmir police and the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) into a human trafficking gang revealed that 19 of the 31 members of the organization were Syrians, who held the crucial positions inside the gang.
A Syrian man, S.S., who himself came to Turkey to flee to the European Union, became the manager of a human smuggling gang. With the probe launched in December 2014, after six months of surveillance, S.S. was learned to have formed a company under the name “Sahil Turizm” (Coast Tourism) and was laundering money through the company to conduct trafficking activities.
While a substantial amount of money consisting of euros, U.S. dollars, Turkish Liras and Syrian pounds were seized along with notebooks showing the money transactions done during the trafficking actions, two money counters, 17 pass-ports, laptops and cell phones were also captured.
A total of 400 million liras in monetary transactions were tracked in the note-books and bank accounts belonging to the company and its members.
The police officer said the current market value for being smuggled into the EU via Turkey ranged from 1,000 to 5,000 euros.
The most expensive, but the safest, way for smuggling is via a jet ski or a speed-boat, which is about 10,000 dollars, the officer said, adding that the smugglers took the migrants one by one on jet skis and dropped them off on a Greek island, while one or very few people were smuggled with speedboats to avoid attracting the attention of the coast guards.
“The amount asked from the Africans varies between 1,000 and 1,500 dollars, because they are poorer. This amount varies between 1,500 and 10,000 dollars for Syrians. It depends on the way it is used” he said.
Meanwhile, a Turkish captain died and a migrant was reported missing after a migrant speedboat carrying a total of 13 people capsized off the coast of the re-sort town of Bodrum early June 27 in an attempt to illegally cross to the Greek island of Kalymnos.
The body of the captain, who was said to be 30 years old, and 11 survivors of the boat were found after an eyewitness on a passing yacht informed the Turkish Coast Guard of “some weary-looking people in the sea with life vests” at around 12 p.m. on June 27.
The six-meter-long speedboat carrying the captain and a total of 12 Syrian and Iraqi migrants capsized due to heavy gusts near Çatalada, an Aegean island three miles off Bodrum, after it headed at around 2 a.m. from the Turgutreis neighborhood of Bodrum, a resort town in the western province of Muğla.
Eleven migrants were saved in multiple searches of the boat by the Coast Guard boats. A migrant among the survivors was taken to the Bodrum State Hospital for treatment after suffering blackout due to hyperthermia. The search for the missing migrant is continuing.