Sixty-one illegal immigrants from Iraq, Syria and Palestine lost their lives after a boat carrying them sank in the Aegean Sea off the coast of ?zmir on Thursday.
Twenty-eight of the victims were children while 18 of them were women, the authorities said.
?zmir deputy governor Ardahan Totuk said 46 people onboard the vessel were rescued and the bodies of all the victims were recovered.The survivors were taken to Ahmetbeyli Gendarmerie Station where they were given food and clothing, noted Totuk, adding that they would later be transferred to a guest house for foreigners in the district of Bornova.
The incident took place near the Menderes district. Menderes district governor Tahsin Kurtbeyo?lu said there were approximately 106 people onboard the boat.
State-run television TRT reported the boat had sunk after hitting rocks around dawn just 50 meters away from the coast. The dozens of survivors were able to swim through the Aegean waters to shore. Kurtbeyo?lu said the 46th survivor was rescued by divers while he was trying to swim to shore.
Those who survived, according to initial reports, were on the deck of the boat rather than below with other members of their group. It was not immediately clear when exactly the boat sank, but many such vessels carrying illegal immigrants make the journey at night to avoid detection by authorities.
The group had previously made their way to ?zmir from various countries, where the smugglers had agreed to take them to Greece, and subsequently to the UK.
The captain of the boat and his assistant are among the survivors and they were taken into custody by the police. They are accused of organizing the deadly voyage.
In the meantime, eight people who were trying to illegally enter Greece were captured in the western city of Bodrum on Thursday. Six of the illegal immigrants were of Georgian origin while two of them were Turkish. Authorities said the Georgian nationals would be deported.
Turkey is both a transit and source country for human smuggling. European countries are the favored destinations for people seeking employment opportunities, due to greater rights given to migrants and the lack of heavy penalties for illegal entry into Europe.
As a country lying on the route to European countries, Turkey has become a center of human smuggling, particularly since the 1990s. Since the costs of arranging illegal passage to European countries via Turkey are lower than other routes, human smugglers see Turkey as an ideal country. The routes that take illegal migrants from the Middle East and Asia to Europe via the northern Black Sea or the Mediterranean are much more expensive and risky.
Moreover, the mountainous terrain in Turkey’s East and Southeast gives human smugglers an advantage in finding places to hide. Illegal migrants are first taken to Çe?me, ?zmir, ?stanbul and Tekirda? and then smuggled across the Kap?kule border crossing or the ?psala border crossing in Edirne to Europe.
According to data from the General Staff, a total of 16,912 people who were trying to enter or exit Turkey illegally have been captured by authorities over the past eight months.
The would-be destination of the most of the illegal immigrants is Europe. Figures suggest an increase in the number of Syrian illegal immigrants over the past months as the country has been suffering from political turmoil over the past 18 months.
Turkey began to welcome refugees fleeing the violence in Syria shortly after the Bashar al-Assad government started its bloody campaign against opposition forces roughly 18 months ago. The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey has reached 80,000.
The General Staff’s data show that most of the illegal immigrants in Turkey come from Syria, Myanmar, Morocco, Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine and Somalia. There are also illegal immigrants from Mali, Algeria, Nigeria, Eritrea, Angola, Burma, Georgia and China.
Turkish authorities take preventive measures against illegal immigrants mostly in the provinces of Mardin, Hatay, Kilis, ??rnak and Elaz??.
The last time illegal immigrants were captured in ?zmir was on July 23. On the same day, illegal immigrants were also detained in ??rnak, Mardin, Edirne and Hatay. The authorities took legal action against 49 illegal immigrants who were from Syria, Eritrea, Myanmar and Liberia.
Turkish authorities also captured 24 illegal immigrants on Wednesday. The illegal immigrants were from Palestine, Nepal and Syria and were using Turkey as a transit country on their way to Greece.
According to data from the Foreigners’ Division of the Turkish police, 1,000 illegal immigrants were caught in Turkey last month and most of them were from Syria and Myanmar.
The number of illegal immigrants captured in ?zmir alone was 125. The destination of these illegal immigrants was cited as Europe, namely Bulgaria and Greece.
Police said that human smugglers receive approximately $8,000-16,000 from the illegal immigrants in return for brining them to European countries.
Being a major transit route for illegal migrants, such tragic incidents are not uncommon in Turkey. Over 50 people aboard a boat carrying at least 85 would-be illegal migrants drowned when the vessel sank off Turkey’s Aegean coast, in Seferihisar near ?zmir, in December 2007.
In another incident, thirteen illegal migrants were found dead after suffocating in a stifling trailer packed with 130 migrants on the outskirts of ?stanbul in July 2008.