Police in northwestern Turkey's Çanakkale, a popular destination among illegal migrants seeking to cross into Greece, arrested a man described as the "regional head" of a human smuggling network yesterday. The suspect, identified only as M.K. after his initials, is accused of running a human trafficking ring in the province for migrants seeking to reach the Greek island of Lesbos from the Aegean coast of the province.
The authorities said M.K., who runs a grocery store in the province, organized trips for migrants from Istanbul to Çanakkale, "in separate groups of 50 people" by buses, minibuses, etc. and provided them with boats for their crossing to Lesbos from Ayvacık of Çanakkale. A search of the storage room of the suspect's grocery store found food past its expiration date and police said they were handed out to illegal migrants before their journey. The authorities added that M.K. reaped huge benefits from the smuggling and lived "a life in luxury." He is believed to have organized journeys to Greece for about 1,000 illegal migrants and may be charged with manslaughter for the deaths of dozens of migrants en route to Greece. The Ayvacık area of the Aegean Sea was where four migrants died in March when their boat sank. The migrants from Afghanistan and Iran were trying to reach Lesbos, which lies about 10 miles away from Turkish shores. It is unclear whether their trip was arranged by M.K.
Last year, some 25,398 people were stopped on the Aegean Sea en route to the nearby Greek islands. A total of 65 people died when their boats sank. The Turkish Coast Guard has stopped some 7,090 illegal migrants heading for Europe since January. Fifteen smugglers were apprehended between January and April.