24. Dezember 2015 · Kommentare deaktiviert für „Hiding in plain sight: inside the world of Turkey’s people smugglers“ · Kategorien: Türkei · Tags:

Quelle: The Guardian

Thousands of refugees are continuing to board boats to Europe everyday despite the worsening winter weather

At Emre’s boat shop in central Izmir, one of Turkey’s main ports, you can’t turn around without bumping into a pile of inflatable rubber boats. On this day there are 16 stacked in beige boxes, all numbered with the same inscrutable code, SK-800PLY, and all newly delivered from China. If Emre’s maths is right, all of them will be discarded on a Greek beach within a couple of days. For Emre’s shop is where you can buy boats that take refugees to Europe – and where they are still being sold at a rate of nearly a dozen a day.

“In the summer we were selling more,” Emre tells a potential Syrian customer. “But right now we’re still selling six of the cheaper boats every day, and five of the more expensive ones. How many do you want?”

European officials met with their Turkish counterparts on Sunday, in a bid to persuade Turkey to do more to stem Europe’s greatest wave of mass migration since the second world war. Despite the worsening weather, another 125,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Greece from Turkey in November – about four times as many as during the whole of 2014. And the biggest proportion probably passed through this quarter of Izmir.

Smuggling happens in plain sight here – leave Emre’s shop, turn right up Fevzi Paşa boulevard, one of Izmir’s main drags, and the signs of the smuggling economy are everywhere. “On the left are the hotels where the smugglers house their clients,” says Abu Khalil, a smuggler who wanders down the street with the Guardian. “And on the right are the insurance shops.” This is where the passengers deposit their fees, which are then released to the smugglers when word comes that they have reached the Greek coast.

Street vendors sit on the pavement, selling party balloons to refugees – not to celebrate with, but to act as watertight cases during the sea crossing. Many shops on the street now sell lifejackets, at least as a sideline. One kebab shop has a dozen for sale, including little ones for children, and there are even a couple in a shop that specialises in police uniforms. But it is the shoe and clothes shops that are really cashing in, with some now pushing lifejackets as their main product.

“We only sell two or three pairs of shoes a day,” says one shop assistant on Fevzi Paşa boulevard. “But we’re still selling between 100 and 300 lifejackets. In the summer sometimes it was a thousand – the factories couldn’t keep up.”

The blatant nature of the smuggling trade in Izmir has led the perception that Turkey turns a blind eye to illegal departures from its western shoreline. Turkey not only bars most Syrians from legal work, giving them little incentive to remain in the country, but officials appear to do little to stop their movement. The hotels and shops near Fevzi Paşa boulevard are squeezed between two police stations that lie less than a kilometre apart – and yet police only sporadically respond to a phenomenon that occurs close to their doorstep.

There is a similar sense of permissiveness in Çeşme, the coastal town west of Izmir that acts as the springboard for smuggling trips to the Greek island of Chios. Taxi drivers in Çeşme are wary of taking passengers to the departure points themselves, for fear of being arrested for smuggling, but on the approach to the beaches concerned the Guardian found they were unguarded and accessible to all.

The Turkish government rejects these criticisms. It says police have arrested more than 200 major smugglers since 2014 and have turned back nearly 80,000 of their passengers – even as the country hosts about 2.2 million Syrian refugees, more than any other nation in the world. “At this point, we are doing everything in our power to stop the flow of refugees and prevent additional casualties,” said a Turkish government spokesman, in an email to the Guardian. “In our experience, however, the main issue is that refugees are willing to try again and again if they are caught.”

The numbers bear out this last point. The flow of refugees has fallen since October, when up to 10,000 were leaving for Greece every 24 hours, but it still remains high. After a few days’ lull due to bad weather, the daily departure rate almost hit the 5,000 mark again last week, according to Greek government data.

Smugglers say this is down to two things. “The main reason is the explosion of the war,” says Abu Khalil, the smuggler in Izmir, who is a Syrian Kurd. Like many others, he argues that recent Russian airstrikes in rebel-held parts of Syria have made the situation even less liveable.

The second factor is that those affected now also find it cheaper to leave. Two smugglers said the cost of a seat on an inflatable boat to Greece has fallen from $1,200 in September to $900 a fortnight ago, and finally $800 in recent days. “People who didn’t have the money before, they can come now,” says Abu Khalil, an Arabic pseudonym that means “Khalil’s father”.

Some passengers, like the family of Alan Kurdi, start from Bodrum, a smaller Turkish resort town to the south, best known in Europe for its hotels and beaches. Others are driven all the way from Istanbul but it’s simpler to start from Izmir and Bodrum, which involve shorter drives to the places where the smugglers launch their boats. The beaches nearest Bodrum are the gateways to the Greek islands of Kos, Leros and Kalymnos. Those who end up in Chios, Samos and Lesbos – the choice is left to the smuggler, rather than the passenger – will have left from Istanbul or Izmir.

The latter city is no stranger to refugees. In 1922, thousands of Izmir’s Greek residents fled to the harbour, after Turkish troops re-took the previously Greek-held city and a week-long fire burnt much of it down. For days, western ships moored just off the shore refused to rescue them.

Today, people find it far easier to leave the city. The warren of streets that surrounds Fevzi Paşa boulevard is full of brokers sidling up to scared Syrians, easily identifiable by their backpacks and apprehension, and offering them trips to Greece. Once a deal is struck, they are hustled into shabby hotels that the smugglers often block-book for this purpose. Late at night, the smugglers arrange for trucks and buses to drive them for a few hours through the darkness to the relevant shore. Sometimes this is a hellish trip that sees people squashed into former cattle trucks. Sometimes the process is far less arduous and they just take public transport.

Different smugglers describe different working practices, but each network operates in broadly the same way. There are the brokers, like Abu Khalil, who must find the 40 or 50 passengers needed to fill each boat and keep them entertained in the hotels until it is time to go. Then there are the drivers who bring them to the shore, and the workmen who deliver the rubber boats and engines and assemble them at the departure points.

If the network smuggles mainly Syrian passengers, then the network will likely be staffed by Syrians, usually working for a Syrian boss. But that boss will also need Turkish partners, such as the landowners who control the beaches from which the boats leave. Typically, these landowners will work with several networks and will take a significant cut of their profits. Their complicity is crucial to the smugglers’ success.

“You can’t just leave from any place, so I would say the Turkish guy is the major player in the process,” says Abu Khalil. “Without him, the trips would not take place.”

A smuggler from another crew says his group rents beaches from several different landlords, to give themselves the options of sending people to several different Greek islands or changing locations at the last minute if the police suddenly arrive. “We keep an eye on the points, and once we see one is clear, we use it,” says Mohamad, a Syrian smuggler. “Nothing is haphazard and everything is planned.”

Each network makes vast profits, although their accounting differs from group to group. Mohamad sets out his accounts as follows: in peak season, a boat of 40 passengers paying $1,200 per person brought in a turnover of $48,000. The brokers would take between $75 and $300 of each payment, leaving at least $36,000 for the rest of the group. During the September peak, the most expensive boat cost $8,500 and the engines cost $4,000, although prices have since fallen. The mechanics and the driver collectively need another $4,000, while hotel rooms for the refugees collectively cost about $500 a night. The beach owners are paid in different ways but often charge a 15% levy on every passenger’s fee – meaning that they pocket about $6,000 per boat.

At the end, the lead smuggler is left with at least $13,000. If he undercuts his brokers and also squeezes onboard another 10 passengers, he could end up doubling his profit, so many cram in 50 passengers rather than the promised 40, and send the boats out without enough fuel. Migrants who get cold feet on the beach sometimes report that they are forced onboard at gunpoint.

But still, people keep coming. Despite the worsening weather, and despite the fallout from the Paris attacks, at least one of which is thought to have involved someone who took a boat from Turkey, thousands are still leaving shores near Izmir every day.

To Abu Khalil, it is obvious why. Most Syrians cannot work legally in Turkey, while the war is getting worse in Syria. “We know about what happened in Paris but we are desperate,” he says. “And we have no other option.”

Abu Khalil would know. In the coming days, he will finally try to get to Europe himself.

Additional reporting: Abdulsalam Dallal. Emre’s name has been changed.


siehe auch: Zeit Online

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Die türkische Stadt Izmir ist ein Drehkreuz für den Handel mit Flüchtlingen. Schleuser und Geschäftsleute verdienen an denen, die nach Europa wollen. Ein Grenzbesuch

Von Nermin Ismail, Izmir und Lesbos

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