EU-bound mi­grants count on smug­glers, life­jack­ets

The China Post - - FEATURE - BY FULYA OZERKAN

Duaa, a 22- year- old Syr­ian refugee and mother of two, is ner­vously count­ing down the hours in the Turk­ish re­sort city of Bo­drum, hop­ing this will be the night her fam­ily’s life will fi­nally take a turn for the bet­ter.

She says her hus­band paid peo­ple smug­glers US$1,200 for each mem­ber of the fam­ily to squeeze into an in­flat­able dinghy for the short but per­ilous pas­sage from the Turk­ish coast across the Aegean to the Greek is­land of Kos and — maybe — to a new life in the EU.

Mi­grants es­cap­ing Syria, Afghanistan, Africa and else­where are tak­ing ad­van­tage of the calm sum­mer con­di­tions to make daily at­tempts to cross the Aegean be­tween the Bo­drum penin­sula and Kos, one of the nar­row­est wa­ter­ways be­tween Tur­key and the Euro­pean Union.

Far from strik­ing out in­de­pen­dently, they rely on the ser­vices of peo­ple smug­glers who co­or­di­nate the en­ter­prise, in­clud­ing taxi trans­port to the em­barka­tion point.

In­flat­able boats are or­dered by the traf­fick­ers from the Turk­ish cities of Is­tan­bul or Izmir and then de­liv­ered to the bus sta­tion.

Hasan, 16, who learned Turk­ish in a camp from Syr­ian refugees on the bor­der, said would-be mi­grants make con­tact with the peo­ple smug­glers in south­east Tur­key be­fore mak­ing their way to the up­mar­ket hol­i­day re­sort of Bo­drum.

“The smug­gler gave us the news. He tells us to wait. We don’t know when to leave,” he said, frus­trated.

With­out money for a ho­tel, Hasan has been sleep­ing rough in a play­ground for chil­dren along with some 100 other refugees.

“Ho­tels are very ex­pen­sive. I am stay­ing here for a week. We eat only yo­ghurt and bread.”

‘Pledges of a bet­ter life’

With the Turk­ish se­cu­rity forces step­ping up their pres­ence on the Bo­drum coast, there is no guar­an­tee that the refugees’ faith or in­vest­ment in the smug­glers will be re­paid.

“To­day we caught one Ira­nian or­ga­nizer red-handed,” one mem­ber of the Turk­ish gen­darmerie told AFP at the scene, say­ing the smug­glers come from coun­tries such as Iran, Pak­istan, Syria, Tur­key, and even Ivory Coast.

He said if con­victed, the traf­fick­ers face up to eight years in prison.

If refugees are caught mak­ing what is an illegal vi­o­la­tion of the Turk­ish bor­der by cross­ing, they re­ceive a fine of 2,200 lira (US$770) and are then sent to an of­fice of the Turk­ish mi­gra­tion agency and on­ward to a refugee camp.

One eye­wit­ness in­volved in res­cue oper­a­tions said: “Most can­not pay the fine. They go to the camps and come back again.”

He said he had seen one man try to make the cross­ing four times.

Metin Cora­batir, pres­i­dent of the Ankara-based Re­search Cen­ter on Asy­lum and Mi­gra­tion (IGAM), said af­ter more than four years of civil war many of the 1.8 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees in Tur­key were los­ing hope of ever go­ing back home and were in­stead try­ing their luck get­ting into the EU.

“Smug­glers en­cour­age refugees to travel to Europe with pledges of bet­ter lives in re­turn for money,” he told AFP.

Cora­batir said it was a prof­itable busi­ness for smug­glers and that the money they get varies ac­cord­ing to the num­ber of peo­ple who are wait­ing to cross and their des­ti­na­tion.

Ac­cord­ing

to Turk­ish gov­ern- ment fig­ures seen by AFP, Turk­ish coast­guards res­cued al­most 18,300 mi­grants in the Aegean Sea in the last month and more than 5,275 in the last week alone.

‘Reg­u­lar cus­tomers’

The refugees take al­most no pos­ses­sions with them on the al­ready over-loaded rub­ber boats.

But al­most all en­sure they are car­ry­ing some kind of life­jacket to give them a rea­son­able chance of sur­viv­ing sev­eral hours in the wa­ter.

Some even take in­flat­able rings used by chil­dren for play­ing in swimming pools.

Shops on the Bo­drum penin­sula, which would nor­mally be do­ing a roar­ing trade cater­ing to beach tourists, are now fo­cus­ing on sell- ing the life vests to the refugees.

“I sell 100 to 150 life­jack­ets in a week,” said one sou­venir shop seller, who asked not to be named.

“I buy t hem f or 30 l i ra (US$10.50) each and sell for 35 lira (US$12.25),” she added.

“I’ve been selling (them) for 16 years. But in the past I sold them to hol­i­day­mak­ers as there are aqua parks and swimming clubs here.”

Another seller in a mar­ket said lo­cal busi­nesses were sim­ply re­spond­ing to a com­mer­cial de­mand.

“If they were tourists, sell wine,” he said.

Mean­while, the lo­cal taxi driv-

I would ers have no qualms about tak­ing refugees to the beach­heads, say­ing they are treated like any other cus­tomer.

“A taxi driver can­not say ‘you are refugee and don’t get in my car,’ He sees them as reg­u­lar cus­tomer,” said one Bo­drum driver who gave his name as Mem­duh.

AP

AP

3. A Syr­ian refugee woman car­ry­ing her baby in her arms walks to the ferry Eleft­he­rios Venize­los, which func­tions as a reg­is­tra­tion cen­ter and ac­com­mo­da­tion for mi­grants and refugees, af­ter cross­ing by a boat from Tur­key, on the south­east­ern Greek is­land of Kos, early Mon­day. 4. A for­mer Syr­ian rebel com­man­der Laith Al Saleh, 30, poses in a bud­get ho­tel on the Greek is­land of Kos, Thurs­day, Aug. 13. Al Saleh had a home, a wife and a nor­mal life be­fore the start of the fight­ing that has claimed more than 250,000 lives and dis­placed up to a third of Syria’s pop­u­la­tion. Now, he’s one of the tens of thou­sands of Syr­ian men, women and chil­dren who risk drown­ing to be smug­gled into Greece by sea on frail, crammed dinghies, pay­ing up to thou­sands of U.S. dol­lars for the ser­vice. At least 135,000 peo­ple — mostly Syr­i­ans — have crossed over from Tur­key this year, more than the to­tal for all of 2014 and 2013 to­gether.

AFP

1. Mi­grants form a line to register with the po­lice author­i­ties in Myti­lene on the Greek is­land of Les­bos, Mon­day, Aug. 17. 2. Mi­grant broth­ers Youssef Ahmed Zaid, five, left, and three-and-a-half-year-old Mus­lim Ahmed Zeid, from Afghanistan, look at a cam­era at a bus sta­tion where their fam­ily has sought shel­ter un­til they cross into Greece, at the coastal town of Bo­drum, Tur­key, Sun­day, Aug. 16.

AP

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