Thirteen would-be illegal migrants' quest for a better life ended in tragedy as they were found dead after suffocating in a stifling trailer packed with 130 migrants on the outskirts of İstanbul early on Wednesday.
The trailer was carrying illegal migrants, mostly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Myanmar, through İstanbul to Greece. The bodies were dumped in a field in the village of Kayabaşı in İstanbul's Küçükçekmece district.
İstanbul Governor Muammer Güler said, according to records, the trailer set out from Iran and entered Turkey through the eastern province of Van.
"After staying there for a while, they set out for İstanbul in a trailer. Since the trailer was packed with people, they began to suffer from lack of oxygen. When it became unbearable, they tried to alert the driver by banging on the trailer's walls. The driver stopped the vehicle in Kayabaşı neighborhood and when he opened the trailer, he found that 13 of the migrants were already dead," stated the governor. Four other migrants had lost consciousness, while the remaining individuals were in relatively good condition, added the governor. The driver left them there and fled the scene, he said.
Turkey is both a transit and source country for human smuggling. European countries are favored destinations for people seeking employment opportunities, due to increased rights given to migrants and the lack of heavy penalties for illegal entry in Europe.
As a country lying on the route to European countries, Turkey has become a center of human smuggling, particularly since the 1990s.
"We experienced another bitter example of human trafficking. This is an inhumane act. Unfortunately, illegal workers use Turkey as a transit country. They develop measures to avert being detected at borders," Güler noted.
Küçükçekmece Mayor Aziz Yeniay, who inspected the site where the migrants were abandoned, said the survivors took shelter at residences in the neighborhood after the driver ran away. He noted that the migrants were reported to have been traveling for days under inhumane conditions, suffering from hunger and thirst.
He termed the incident "a shame for humanity."
Police teams rushed to the scene after being tipped off by villagers, and detained 90 migrants, taking them to the Halkalı Police Station for questioning, while 13 others were taken to the Bakırköy Sadi Konuk Teaching and Research Hospital for treatment.
Seven of the migrants with only minor injuries were discharged from the hospital yesterday after treatment, while treatment of the remaining six, who reportedly suffered from kidney complications because of going without water for so long, continues.
The police cordoned off the area and took extraordinary security measures in Kayabaşı, and a helicopter assisted police with finding the rest of the survivors.
Police are still searching for the driver.
Kayabaşı village head (mukhtar) Doğan Hazat said he was informed about the migrants by residents. "There is a farm in this neighborhood. They told me the migrants took shelter in the farm as they were hungry and thirsty. The owner of the farm immediately called the police and informed them about the migrants."
Media reports said the illegal migrants paid the human smugglers $4,500 each to transport them to Greece.
The bodies of the 13 victims were taken to the İstanbul Forensic Medicine Center morgue for autopsy.
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 Çeşme, İzmir, İstanbul and Tekirdağ and then smuggled across the Kapıkule border crossing or the İpsala border crossing in Edirne to Europe.
Being a major transit route for illegal migrants, such tragic incidents are not uncommon in Turkey. Last December, 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 İzmir.
Some 230 illegal immigrants died in Turkish territorial waters in the Aegean or in Turkish territory in 2007, according to a report prepared by the Turkish Coast Guard and the Gendarmerie General Command. In the same period, there was a 300 percent rise in the number of people from underdeveloped countries trying to reach Europe, mostly due to wars and instability in their home countries.
Although such tragedies involving illegal migrants still do take place, Turkey has actually made tremendous efforts to modernize its border and customs checkpoints. The efforts have been paying off, with increasingly more human smuggling cases being uncovered by customs police in recent months. In particular, there has been a considerable decrease in the number of people smuggled from countries of the Middle East and Africa to Europe via Turkey, according to recent statistics provided by the Customs Protection General Directorate.
The directorate recently made important achievements against human smuggling. This success is largely attributable to the increased use of technology capable of detecting living beings and carbon dioxide gas and heartbeat detectors at seaports, airports and border crossings. Heartbeat detectors enable the detection of people hiding inside shipping containers.
According to the Turkish Security Directorate, more than 500,000 illegal immigrants have been captured in the country over the past 10 years.
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