Smuggling is Ankara’s latest cause for concern on the border with Syria, with waves of illegal trespassers adding to worries about Kurds and refugees
The group threw stones at military patrol vehicles before Turkish soldiers shot into the air. DHA photo
Large groups of smugglers attempting to illegally cross into Turkey from Syria are creating growing headaches for units of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) stationed near the tense southern frontier, with reports that up to 2,000 smugglers alone attempted to enter the country on July 30.
The incidents involving smugglers, which have been continuing since early June, have intensified in the second half of July, according to announcements posted on the official website of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), prompting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
to call an emergency meeting with top civilian and military officials.
Earlier in the day, the TSK announced in a statement posted on its official website that Turkish troops shot into the air and fired tear gas to disperse the crowd of around 1,500-2,000 smugglers trying to illegally cross into Turkey from Syria.
Just one day earlier, Turkish troops fired tear gas again to disperse a crowd of around 1,000 smugglers who threw stones at them.
Erdoğan presided over the critical meeting, which featured Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, Interior Minister Muammer Güler, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan and Prime Ministry Undersecretary Efkan Ala.
All of the ministers, as well as the deputy prime ministers and the prime minister, are members of the National Security Council (MGK). The two undersecretaries also participate in the MGK meetings from time to time.
The growing tension involving large groups of smugglers poses a serious problem for Turkey since, as a neighbor, the country has been dealing with various problems stemming from Syria, such as the huge influx of refugees and the possibility that a new Kurdish entity could be formed in northern Syria which may, according to Ankara, renew aspirations among Turkey’s Kurds for autonomy. As such, the problem of smuggling may become yet another front for Turkey in its problems with Syria.
According to the TSK, the Border Regimental Command station in Oğulpınar in Hatay identified a group of 1,500-2,000 smugglers at around 3 a.m. on the Turkish-Syrian border. The group was warned in both Turkish and Arabic not to come closer to the border line, yet the group did not comply with the warnings and continued to approach the frontier. 350 with horses
The group of smugglers attacked the military with stones from the Syrian side, while another group of smugglers joined them from the Turkish side, the statement said. Military personnel fired warning shots and used tear gas, causing the group to disperse after they damaged the wire marking the border.
At the same time, another group of 300-350 smugglers with horses attempting to cross from another region was also stopped with a preemptive strike, the TSK said, noting that there were no casualties on both events.
The TSK also said the Border Regimental Command station in Oğulpınar identified another group of 1,000 approaching from Syria “with the intention of smuggling.”
Army personnel issued warnings in Turkish and Arabic, but the group continued to approach the border and began throwing stones at a patrol vehicle while another smuggler group attacked military staff with stones, it said. The group, which did not suffer any casualties, was dispersed with tear gas bombs after warning shots failed to have any effect. The group reportedly abandoned 6,000 liters of diesel oil in 100 bins.
On July 22, a Turkish border patrol killed one of eight civilians trying to cross illegally from Turkey into Syria, the TSK announced on July 23 in a statement, raising concerns that Syria’s more than two-year-old civil war was fuelling lawlessness and dragging into neighboring states.