The relative anonymity of social media websites has proved helpful for human smugglers to contact their "customers," illegal immigrants flocking to Turkey to cross into Europe.
Through social media networks, smugglers connect to migrants and vice versa, bargaining on the costs and negotiating the possible routes for travel to Europe, a top destination especially for migrants from war-torn Syria increasingly risking their lives getting to Greek islands near the Turkish coasts.
Social media is a blessing for Syrian migrants whose families have been torn apart by the ongoing war to connect to their relatives living in different cities in Turkey, which is home to more than 1.9 million Syrians. For smugglers, both of Turkish nationality and Syrians, it is a platform where they post "ads" in social media circles catering to Syrian expatriates. The ads, not sanctioned by websites, are usually in the form of a vacation in Europe. Several accounts operated by smugglers inform migrants on where to stay while in Turkey temporarily, how boats operate and where to stay once they reach the Greek islands. Some smugglers also post messages promising to help with forging fake passports for migrants.
Smugglers on average ask for $1,250 for a crossing into Greece while children are not charged. In the western city of İzmir, which recently became a hub of illegal immigrants from Syria, the fees are paid to the point men of smugglers. Once migrants reach Greece, they phone these point men, notifying them of their arrival and the money is forwarded to ringleaders of smuggling gangs. The gangs impose extra charges for migrants seeking jobs or a place to stay once they arrive in Greece.
Savsen Atrash is a teacher who traveled to Turkey after fleeing the war in her country. Her sister died en route to Greece during an illegal crossing attempt. Now she runs a group on a social media website, warning Syrians of the dangers of illegal crossings. Syrians who attempted to cross into Greece or were defrauded by smugglers exchange their experiences in the group, which has 7,000 members. Atrash says this exchange of information on risks involving illegal immigrants hsa saved many lives. "Social media is also popular among smugglers. They promote everything from fees for illegal crossing to accommodation information in the target destination," she says. Atrash also notes the rise in the number of people seeking to cross into Europe, adding that it was now Syrians actively seeking smugglers instead of smugglers seeking people to smuggle.