Balloons, a favorite toy for children, find another life in İzmir as a reliable way for migrants to keep their money, cellphones and other belongings.
Rubber balloons sold for TL 1 ($0.37) are hugely popular among illegal migrants seeking to cross to the Greek islands from Turkey's Aegean coast.
Basmane, a district in İzmir that recently saw a boom in the number of Syrian migrants, is also enjoying a boom in balloon sales. Erdal İpekçioğlu, a shopkeeper, said Syrians are among his frequent customers. "I initially thought they were buying them for their children. Then I noticed vendors started setting up stalls here to sell balloons. When I asked the Syrians what they are for, they told me they are using the balloons to keep their belonging from getting wet while sailing to the [Greek] islands. They put their cellphones and money in the balloons and it is perfectly waterproof," he said.
Migrants often travel at night on rickety boats supplied by human smugglers. Few manage to reach the Greek coast as their overcrowded and unreliable boats often end up sinking. Authorities are concerned over the surge in the number of migrants captured on the country's western coast to which the Greek islands lie in close proximity. Yesterday 501 migrants were captured in four cities along the Aegean coast including İzmir,. Shopkeepers, on the other hand, have seen a surge in sales, especially those selling life vests and rubber boats.