Turkey detains human smugglers, stops 120 Syrians at Aegean

Turkish security forces detain at least two human traffickers trying smuggle more than 100 Syrian refugees from Turkey’s Aegean coast to nearby Greek islands

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Refugees walk along a beach before trying to travel to the Greek island of Chios from the western Turkish coastal town of Cesme, in the western Izmir province on March 5, 2016.

Turkish authorities on Saturday detained at least two human traffickers after they shuttled some 120 Syrian refugees to the Aegean coast in a sign Turkey has been increasing its efforts to curb the flow of refugees to Europe.

Gendarmes stopped the group, mostly made up of women and children, on a beach near a wooded area by the village of Bademli, located across from the Greek island of Lesbos, a Reuters witness said.

The raid occurred on the eve of a summit in Brussels Monday at which Turkey and the EU will tackle the refugee crisis after more than a million people fleeing turmoil in the Middle East, Africa and Asia sought safety and prosperity in Europe in 2015.

The influx has revealed political fault lines among European Union states and threatened the 28-member bloc's open-border policy.

Europe wants candidate country Turkey to step up security along its coast and take back refugees caught at sea to help reduce the flow of refugees to the EU. In exchange it has pledged 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in funds to help Turkey with its record number of refugees.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan late on Friday accused the EU of dragging its feet on the funds four months.

"You can pay up or not, we have not closed our door to refugees like Westerners have. We've kept it open," Erdogan said, adding he wants to build a city for refugees in northern Syria near the Turkish border with international money but has not received concrete support for the plan from other countries.

Turkey has spent nearly $10 billion of its own resources on the refugees whose number in the country has been climbing to 2.7 million people.

The country is a transit point for refugees aiming to reach European countries from Syria and Iraq because of its geography bridging the Middle East and Europe.

On the coast, at least one trafficker escaped on foot, while officers towed away the half-dozen or so minibuses they had driven to the coast. The refugees, who included a pregnant women and newborns, were bussed back to the port city of Izmir.

One Syrian who appeared to be in his 30s said he was forced to attempt the route because of a lack of opportunity in Turkey.

"It's not bad here but there is no work. I have relatives in Germany and will go to be with them," he said, declining to give his name.

Separately, news media reported that Turkey had shut its last open border gate with Syria to all traffic except for humanitarian aid convoys and Syrians wishing to leave.

The local media accounts have not cited a reason for the decision to shut the Cilvegozu gate in Turkey's southern Hatay province, located across from Syria's Bab al Hawa.

TRTWorld, Reuters