NEWS

Aegean is people smugglers favored route for a number of good reasons

«They told us that as soon as we approached the Greek coast we would have to disembark quickly, so we were all prepared. But no one warned us that they might throw us into the sea and, unfortunately, that is what happened. As we were approaching the coast, the two Turks saw a boat approaching and began pushing us overboard. When I resisted, they put a gun to my head and that’s how I found myself in the water, calling for help. Fortunately we were picked up by the Greek coast guard,» said Banura Misgin, a 45-year-old doctor from Iraq, who arrived on the island of Chios. Many others have not been so lucky. The precise number of people who have drowned, either because their overloaded boat sank or because the human traffickers pushed them overboard in order to save their own necks, is unknown. Coast guard officials believe that more than 197 people have drowned in the past 10 years, apart from those who have been lost at sea. The Aegean is favored by human traffickers because of the thousands of rocky islets, the short distances between landfalls and because it is easy for them to make a fast getaway. According to the coast guard, the eastern Aegean is easy game for human traffickers for seven reasons: – Illegal immigrants can be put ashore on any one of the many islands and islets from Lesvos in the north to Symi and Kastellorizo in the south. – The Dodecanese, an area stretching south from the island of Agathonisi, is scattered with uninhabited islets where traffickers have no compunction about putting people ashore to risk death from starvation if they are not seen by fishermen or the coast guard. Some of these islets are only a short distance from the Turkish coast. – The large area covered by human traffickers forces the Merchant Marine Ministry to spread its patrol boats out in so many different directions that they are unable to fully cover all the sea and islands close to the Turkish coast. – Turkish traffickers use power boats that can reach speeds of up to 50 knots, enabling them to cover the short distances in as little as five minutes, making the coast guard’s work even more difficult. – It is very dangerous for coast guard officers to open fire on the boats for fear of hitting any of the immigrants. – Intercepting boats carrying immigrants and forcing them back into Turkish waters, wherever feasible, is not really effective, as the immigrants will only try again at another point of entry. – Recently, traffickers have been overloading small and unsafe craft, resulting in the boats often sinking before they reach the Greek coast. Between 2000 and December 31, 2002, in 21 incidents involving old, overloaded boats that sank, 197 people are known to have lost their lives. This number is, of course, an extremely conservative estimate, given the number of missing. Various methods The coast guard have observed several well-tried methods that human traffickers use to get their human cargo onto Greek shores. Some Turkish traffickers accompany their human cargo to the Greek coast, put them ashore and then return to their home port. In other instances, a Turkish helmsman skippers the immigrant boat, which is accompanied by a second craft carrying his accomplices. During the voyage, the helmsman shows the passengers how to handle the boat and then abandons them to their fate, returning to Turkey in the second boat. In other cases, the traffickers instruct one of the immigrants on how to steer the boat toward a Greek islet. Where larger ships or fishing boats are used, traffickers travel with the immigrants into Greek waters where their human cargo is picked up by accomplices at a prearranged spot. Larger ships used for this purpose usually travel south of the island of Crete outside Greek territorial waters or via the Cyclades, where there are many islets where boats can shelter in the event of bad weather. In many cases, immigrants on boats abandoned by their crews are spotted by passing ships or coast guard patrols.