As the towns in western Turkey littoral to the Aegean Sea gain popularity among illegal immigrants seeking to reach Greece, demand for rubber boats and life vests, two vital items in migrants' risky journey, increases.
The boom in the sales of vests and boats is apparently attracting those seeking to strike quick profits with under the table production, which threatens the lives of migrants.
In İzmir, one of the biggest cities on Turkey's Aegean coast, migrants - the majority of whom are from Syria where the ongoing conflict has displaced hundreds of thousands of people - wait in total darkness to board overcrowded boats to the Greek islands. Migrants walking around with black bags are a common sight in city's Basmane district where migrants concentrate. Closer inspection reveals the bags contain life vests.
Their only lifelines in the risky journey to Greece are their ability to swim and their life vests. Since swimming is of no help during inclement weather, life vests come in handy for migrants.
Defective life vests, however, prove deadly for migrants. Poor-quality vests produced in unregistered workshops are preferred by impoverished migrants because they are cheap. Sait Güderoğlu, owner of a life vest manufacturing company, said life vests must meet international standards for their safety features, but those manufactured under the table do not. "They can't even help a small child keep afloat, let alone an adult. They are made of the fabric that handbags are made of and stuffed with low-quality sponge. Rather than keeping one afloat, they pull the user further down as they absorb water," he said. Güderoğlu stressed that those life vests, unlike the originals that are colored orange, come in black to avoid detection by the Coast Guard, which obstructs rescue efforts in case of sinking of migrant boats. Still, they are wildly popular due to their low prices ranging between TL 20 ($7.40) to TL 30 while the high-quality vests manufactured in line with international standards are sold for a minimum price of TL 75.