Firstly let me apologise for the apparently flippant title; it is not intended to diminish the real hardship that many refugees are currently experiencing. No it was done with the intention of pulling in a few more of the ever ‘shrinking attention span social-media’ (SASS) generation into a serious subject. If you ‘Dear Reader’ are one of these people then I guess it did its job, unless of course you have now taken offence at being labelled Generation SASS!
The title is actually not very far from the truth. About ten days ago I was woken in the early hours of the morning by voices coming from the direction of my garden. There was a Turkish voice but also a different Turkic sounding language being spoken, which I later learned was Syrian Arabic. This being the Turkish seaside in summer, people stay out late. It is also the middle of Ramadan, when the handful of my neighbours who still observe it properly rise well before the sun does to eat their breakfasts, so I just rolled over and went back to sleep. However, I had just nodded off when I heard shouting and noticed the coloured flashing lights of a Jandarma (Countryside Police Force) truck. The next day a neighbour informed me that a group of about seven Syrian refugees had been hiding in gardens waiting for a boat, they were told would leave from our beach at midnight. The boat they said they had paid for had seemingly never arrived.
I wish I could say there was something unusual about this story but sadly it is being repeated up and down the entire length of the Turkish Aegean coastline every single night. Desperate people trying to make it to Greece, which despite its own economic collapse is still seen as the gateway to the European Union. The Syrians I heard were heading for the Greek Island of Kos, which I can clearly see from my house most days. However, because so many other Greek islands also lie in close proximity to the Turkish coastline, they have received more than their fair share of people looking for political asylum. Only yesterday the large island of Lesbos declared that it has received more refugees than at any time since the calamitous end to the Greek – Turkish War of Independence in 1922, when in the space of a few weeks almost a million people fled from Turkey to Greece ahead of the victorious Turkish forces.
Photo care of Hurriyet Newspaper
This week the United Nations confirmed that more than four million Syrians – a sixth of the population – have fled abroad to escape the conflict in their country. A surge in the number of people crossing into Turkey has increased this total by one million in just 10 months. Turkey is now home to the largest number of Syrians refugees – almost 2 million – and is reportedly preparing for a new influx as the conflict escalates near the Syrian border.
Syrians also made up about a third of the 137,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean from north Africa in the first half of 2015. In all, about 270,000 Syrians have gone that more dangerous route to seek asylum in Europe. However, Europe now seems so totally distracted by the economic woes of Greece and its almost inevitable exit from the Eurozone, that it appears devoid of any real will or ideas to come up with a sustainable solution to deal with the massive influx, beyond building higher fences and sending out more boats to collect survivors from those flimsy boats that sink long before they can make landfall.
Of course where ever you have a crisis, there will be those who can see a quick profit in it. Enter the people traffickers, who are now operating in a business worth hundreds of millions of Euros, anywhere in a long sweep of coastline between the African Atlantic coast all the way around the Mediterranean to the land border between Turkey and Greece. Be they mafia, smaller local players or just petty criminals with a single boat to sell, all are now trying to cash in on the unfolding human tragedy. For them the more miserable the better because that is what motivates the refugees to pay such high amounts for life threatening journeys often in conditions that most people wouldn’t even subject animals to.
Returning to my opening scene. People smuggling is now so widespread here that the crooks who run these operations along the Aegean coast now barely even try to hide their activities anymore and in some areas they have terrorised the local residents to such an extent that some of them have now banded together and taken up arms against the smugglers.
Photo care of Sabah Newspaper
Fed up with smugglers using their fields and empty houses for their operations to the Greek island of Lesbos, locals in Bademli village in the province of Canakkale recently argued with a group of smugglers they confronted on the coast. However the smugglers soon returned in a convoy of cars and opened fire into the air in the village square in an attempt to intimidate the villagers, who they did not realise were also armed with pistols and rifles. The villagers quickly overpowered the group and captured five Turkish smugglers who they photographed after tying to poles in the square. Some of the photos were then made into posters and put up in the area to make an example of them and warn off other smugglers. The men were then handed to Jandarma when they arrived in the village the next morning. However, only one of these men was arrested while some of the others, who were quickly released, returned the very next night. They were now scared to enter the village, but still fired into the air nearby.
One of the villagers who preferred to remain anonymous recently told Sabah newspaper that hundreds of migrants still descend into Bademli, every single night in taxi’s on foot or in smugglers trucks, which also carry boats. Nobody seems interested in stopping them so we now patrol our fields, to prevent them demolishing fences and walls and also any out buildings and summer houses, which is where the smugglers often hide the refugees until night falls. The two sides still occasionally exchange fire at night.
Until the World decides to deal with the catastrophic war in Syria once and for all, such scenes are undoubtedly going to be repeated and will probably get worse long before they get better.