Operation Baby Alan, named after the infant who died en route to Europe in 2015, saw the arrests of 60 suspected migrant smugglers on Tuesday. Prosecutors in the western city of İzmir – a favorite gateway to Europe for illegal migrants – ordered arrest warrants for 104 people, and police launched operations in İzmir and 11 other cities. İzmir Police Chief Hüseyin Aşkın said it was probably the largest operation against a migrant smuggling gang in Turkey.
Suspects are accused of organizing journeys for illegal migrants across the Aegean Sea. Twenty-one among them were already jailed on other charges.
Aşkın told reporters that the gang had been under surveillance for some time and they sought to prevent “more deaths.” He said suspects were involved in at least 30 cases of migrant smuggling. “We hope no more people die in our seas. Migrant smuggling is a crime against humanity, like terrorism,” he said. Aşkın said all suspects were Turkish nationals and the gang operated in a large area from the Aegean region to the Mediterranean region of Turkey.
Alan Kurdi was 3 years old when he died along with his mother and an older brother while the family was trying to reach Greece from the coast of Bodrum in southwestern. Photos of the toddler whose body washed ashore shook the collective public conscience and escalated calls to stop the plight of illegal migrants.
Turkish officials held 1.2 million illegal migrants and over 27,000 human traffickers over the past five years, recent data showed, as Ankara ramped up efforts to stop migrants from taking perilous journeys in hopes of a better future.
According to the Directorate General of Migration Management, Turkish authorities held a record 454,662 illegal migrants across the country in 2019. More than 200,000 of the migrants were Afghan nationals, while over 71,000 were from Pakistan. Syrians ranked third on the list with some 55,000 illegal migrants.
Turkey has been a key transit point for irregular migrants aiming to cross into Europe to start new lives. Either fleeing poverty or prevailing conflicts, thousands arrive in Turkey every year to take their chance at illegally crossing into Europe. As a country with maritime and land borders shared with Bulgaria and Greece, illegal migrants are a common sight in Turkey.
Illegal migrants take Aegean, Mediterranean and Black Sea routes to access European countries. The Aegean is the most popular as it is dotted with Greek islands in close proximity to Turkish shores. Prior to their travel to Turkey's Aegean shores, migrants typically enter Turkey from the country's southern or eastern borders.
Illegal migration has gained momentum in recent years due to a number of domestic upheavals, economic crises and political uncertainty afflicting countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq and Iran, as well as others on the African continent.
Ankara and Brussels signed an agreement in March 2016 to find a solution to the influx of refugees heading to the EU. As part of the deal, Turkey was promised a total of 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in financial aid. It was initially designed to be given to the country in two stages, to be used by the Turkish government to finance projects for Syrian refugees. However, Turkey has been critical of the EU for doing little to help relieve the burden the number of migrants has placed on the country with Turkish officials often slamming European countries for not fulfilling the pledge of funds to help care for migrants in Turkey.
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