Turkish authorities detain 1,700 migrants trying to cross Aegean

Turkish authorities detain 1,700 migrants trying to cross Aegean

İZMİR – Reuters
Turkish authorities detain 1,700 migrants trying to cross Aegean

A gendarmerie officer watches a group migrants detained while trying to illegally travel to Lesbos from Dikili. DHA photo

Turkish authorities detained 1,700 migrants trying to reach the Greek island of Lesbos on March 18, in a major operation involving coastguard ships and helicopters, as European leaders clinched an agreement with Ankara aimed at halting illegal migration. 

A total of 1,734 migrants and 16 smugglers were detained in the operation, launched at several locations near İzmir’s Dikili district on Turkey's Aegean coast, the military said in a statement. The operation involved the coastguard, navy, gendarmerie and was backed by air support, it said. 

Authorities were still working to ascertain the nationalities of those arrested, the military said. 

Many of those detained at sea, and others in hostels and streets on Turkey's Aegean coast, were being taken to a sports hall in Dikili, a senior local security official told Reuters. 

The migrants, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan, would be questioned to determine their backgrounds and what action would be taken next, officials said. 

"I think there are many people running from war to Europe, and I guess it's a (problem)," said Issam Katib, 27, who fled from Damascus and was among those detained. 

He reflected a widely held view among the migrants that if they could reach the Greek islands they would then be free to settle in Europe. 

"If Turkey gives us the right to choose the country to live in, it is ok, but I think ... in Greece we have the right to choose," he told Reuters, speaking in English. "We all need (to go) a legal way, maybe not by the sea." 

Turkey is home to more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees alone, and for many, the attraction of Europe is unlikely to diminish once the agreement takes effect. People traffickers are likely to focus on new routes, officials fear. 

"We left Syria and came to Turkey, but life here is expensive and difficult ... We want to go to Europe and for someone to help us a little," said Qasser Shaouk, a migrant in the Basmane district of İzmir.