Even though many of them end up in detention or dead, illegal migrants look committed to pursuing their dreams of reaching Europe. This sentiment rings true for many of them who come to Turkey in hopes of making it to Europe, stressing that they will try again even after getting arrested by the police on Istanbul's shores. As I mingled with a number of illegal migrants as an undercover reporter, police stopped the group of illegal migrants I was hanging out with before they were to board a boat for a potentially deadly journey to Europe. Their next stop was a migrant center or guesthouse run by the police.
After the legal processes, they will be deported to their respective countries while two smugglers who arranged their trip were detained elsewhere.
Each one relates his or her story to police and one common theme is the money they paid with a "100 percent guarantee to reach Europe." After questioning, they reclined on their beds in the migrant center, where about 5,000 illegal migrants are processed and deported every year. All are aware of the dangers awaiting them along the route but there was nothing but their next attempt to travel to Europe on their minds as I talked to the migrants during a night at the center.
Imran Awal, a 20-year-old from Afghanistan, sneaked into Turkey eight months ago. He was illegally working as a waste paper collector in Fikirtepe, Istanbul when police caught him. He was planning a journey to Europe before he was brought to the migrant center. Recalling his journey to Turkey, Awal says he first contacted Iranian smugglers in Afghanistan to travel to Iran first and then to Turkey. He left his family behind to pursue a new life in Europe and had no money when he arrived in Turkey as he gave all he had to smugglers.
"I was working in Fikirtepe so I could pay smugglers to take me to Europe. I gave them almost everything I earned here. It is sad that I have to go back to Afghanistan now," he said.
Twenty-one-year-old Wahed Ishaki, a Pakistani man, followed roughly the same route as Awal and said he paid $1,000 to Iranian smugglers to cross into Turkey. Like Awal, he found an illegal job, working in construction sites, before police caught him 10 days ago.
"I was paying what I earned in Istanbul to smugglers because I wanted to set up a new life in Europe. They [Smugglers] asked me to pay 2,000 euros ($2,241) for a journey to Greece and I had to pay it," he said. "I will try again, to go to Greece, even if I die [along the way]."
Istanbul police occasionally crackdown on human smugglers and bust around 20 smuggling rings every year. In 2018, police efforts against smuggling prevented more than 10,000 illegal migrants from setting out on deadly journeys to Europe. They also detained 642 human smuggling suspects.