The migrant crisis, as seen through the eyes of a people smuggler in Turkey

29 July 2016 13:59
The migrant crisis, as seen through the eyes of a people smuggler in Turkey

The smuggler roams the backstreets of Turkey’s impoverished Agora area in Izmir, past street vendors pitching their knockoff wares.

He talks of guiding thousands of people through labyrinthine cities, along beaches and ultimately aboard frail and overcrowded boats as part of an underground trade worth billions of dollars. Each customer was willing to take the necessary risks in hopes of reaching Europe, often to get away from war and poverty in their homeland, he says.

“I tell them, ‘The boat may capsize, you may drown. Are you sure you want to go?’ ” the smuggler says. 

“I don’t even have to look for them; they find me,” he says. “Most have relatives or friends who we have smuggled. One name is enough. Just come here and ask for ‘Ibo from Mardin.’ ”

Izmir — Turkey’s third-largest city and traditional hub of its Mediterranean trading class — has served as the country’s central staging post for the people smugglers whose operations exploded over the last year along the Aegean Sea. Other such smuggling occurs from places such as Antalya and Bodrum.

More than a million people boarded rickety craft in the secluded inlets and bays along this coastal expanse, ferried by night to a scattering of nearby Greek islands during at least the last year, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

The European Union’s border agency, Frontex, estimates that the trade was worth about $4.6 billion during the last year.