Massive human smuggling gang foiled in multinational operations led by Istanbul police
Banu Şen – İZMİR
AA photoIstanbul police’s human smuggling bureau has exposed a massive smuggling gang that operates in a number of European states and facilitates the illegal travel of both national and foreign migrants as well as criminals to Western European countries.
In partnership with the anti-human smuggling offices of 13 countries, Istanbul police conducted operations in recent weeks on several addresses to capture 40 suspects of the gang; a court arrested 35 of them in the ongoing multi-national investigation.
The operation was launched when Turkish police were notified in April 2016 regarding the smuggling of both Turkish nationals, mostly from the southeastern regions of the country, and foreign nationals. Receiving further notices in May, police obtained information that the same gang conducting illegal activities was also smuggling militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Upon this information, police teams exchanged information with intelligence and anti-terror police bureau and after the July 15, 2016, coup, new denunciations arrived alleging that the gang was also smuggling followers of the Gülenist network, which is widely believed to have orchestrated the coup attempt in Turkey. Launching its first operation in September 2016, police found a network that functions around the suspect O.K. and his brothers.
Initial reports suggested that the network was mostly concentrated in Şanlıurfa, Bitlis, Bingöl, Gaziantep and Mardin provinces in southeastern Turkey and was smuggling Turkish nationals and foreign migrants in exchange for 3,000-5,000 euros.
According to police, the plan functioned by sending migrants to Istanbul first and from there, facilitating their passage to Kosovo and Albania, two Balkan countries that do not require visas from Turkey. The migrants were then being sent to Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia before transiting on to Western European countries.
After finding these details about the route of the smugglers, Turkish police contacted security forces in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and Italy and to launch cooperation.
As the investigation began, some techniques of the smugglers were also discovered. According to one, a path was used to transfer Afghan, Syrian and Pakistani migrants to Bulgaria. This path began in the forested areas of İğneada and Dereköy in the northeast of Turkey’s Thracian peninsula, bordering Bulgaria. After passing a trail with a guide, the migrants were handed to representatives of the gang in Bulgaria.
Another technique was to provide Schengen visas for migrants in Turkey to transfer them to Romania and Bulgaria before they continued on to other countries.