Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said Thursday that security forces last year captured 4,500 human smugglers profiting from illegal immigrants seeking access to Europe via Turkey.
A favorite destination for migrants aspiring to reach EU countries, Turkey–bridge to Europe, has intercepted more than 644,000 migrants in the past seven years–it skyrocketed at the height of the civil war in Turkey’s southern neighbor Syria, latest statistics show.
Speaking at a security forum in Ukraine’s capital Kiev, Soylu said Turkey faced a great burden of migration due to its location at the intersection of main migration routes. “Human smugglers also seek to create new routes for migrants through Turkey. Last year, they tried smuggling them through Black Sea [from Turkish coast to coasts of eastern European states],” he said.
The country is both a transit and final destination for migrants, particularly from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Congo, Bangladesh, Somalia and Palestinian territories. Turkey is also favored by illegal immigrants seeking jobs, and mostly Moldovan, Ukrainian, Romanian and Georgian nationals prefer it for jobs as undocumented workers.
The minister also lamented lack of support from the European Union in handling the flow of migrants. “European Union disappointed us,” he said, noting that Europe chose “prevention of migration” while Turkey chose “management of migration.” He said ending the migrant flow was only possible by “eradicating terrorism,” referring to return of Syrian refugees to their homeland after Turkey aided Syrian opposition to liberate towns from Daesh and other terrorist groups.
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Syrians refugees have long comprised the majority of migrants crossing over to Europe from Turkey, which hosts the largest Syrian refugee community in the world, at above 3.5 million. After the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, more displaced people arrived in Turkey, a rare safe haven for refugees in the region. As a result, the number of people seeking to reach Europe via the country also increased.
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In 2015, crossings through the Aegean, where the Greek islets lie in close proximity of the Turkish shores, reached 91,611 in one year, excluding the number of those the Coast Guard could not intercept.
A year later, Turkey and the EU reached an agreement to return the migrants taken in by Greece to Turkey, in exchange for receiving Syrian refugees settled in Turkey. The deal helped a considerable drop in the number of migrants.
Once swarmed with dinghies packed with migrants, the Aegean Sea, main gateway to Europe for migrants, was relatively calm this winter, compared to past years; however, migrants are still trickling in to the nearby Greek islands.