UK seeks to help Turkey with foreigners headed for Syria
LONDON – Anadolu Agency
AA PhotoBritain is seeking to better help Turkey prevent foreigners crossing into Syria to join jihadist groups, the chairman of the U.K.’s Home Affairs Select Committee stated on March 3.
“I do not think it is the job of the Turkish police and the Turkish authorities to chase our citizens. This all has to be done with cooperation,” said Keith Vaz at the committee.
Three British students - Shamima Begum, 15, Amira Abase, 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16 - left Bethnal Green Academy in east London in February for Turkey, reportedly to cross into Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Surveillance video acquired by Istanbul police showed the trio at a major bus station in the city on Feb. 17. A British police team arrived in Turkey on Feb. 23, to assist investigations into the missing girls.
Vaz said British police officers were right to be there and Britain should be doing more to help.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said last week that Turkey was alerted by the U.K. three days after the three girls left Britain.
“It is clear that Turkey is now a destination of concern. It has been used as a gateway by British citizens to get to Syria, not just by British citizens, but those from other countries as well,” said Vaz.
He said many of the estimated 600 British citizens who have travelled to Syria have passed through Turkey. “I think the international community should give more help to Turkey. Not just in terms of counter terrorism, but also illegal migration,” Vaz said, adding that the Home Affairs Select Committee has a long-standing interest in counter-terrorism issues.
Speaking at a press briefing on Feb. 27, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç said the ministry disapproved of the Home Affairs Committee’s call for Turkish Airlines CEO Temel Kotil to appear before them about the three schoolgirls.
The committee had asked Kotil and Turkey’s ambassador to Britain, Abdurrahman Bilgiç, to speak to it about the disappearance of the three teenage girls.
“I have spoken to Ambassador Abdurrahman Bilgiç. I think he was in Ankara when I spoke to him. I explained the reasons why we feel it’s useful to have him, as well as the CEO of Turkish Airlines,” said Vaz.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has also touched on what he described as a “worrying situation.”
“What this incident has highlighted is the worrying situation where unaccompanied teenagers like these - who are not a known risk - can board a flight to Turkey without necessarily being asked questions by the airline,” Cameron said.
In a response to the British prime minister’s remarks, Turkish Airlines issued a statement on Feb. 27, saying its procedures “are consistent with international and national aviation authorities and British aviation security laws.”
Vaz said the U.K.’s statements were not intended to criticize. “Rather, it is to see what more we can do to help. We thought it will be helpful for the committee and parliament if we hear from the Turkish government and CEO of Turkish Airlines,” he said.
“What we are trying to do is establish the facts and see what more can be done in order to strengthen that bond of cooperation that clearly exists … It is no good expecting Turkish Airlines, for example, to become immigration officers. That is not their job,” said Vaz, describing the pressure on Turkey as “huge.”
“If Turkey were inside the EU, I think we would be able to do much more with Turkey to help combat this problem,” he said.
“Because Turkey is not in the EU, a lot of information we would like to give Turkey cannot be given. This stops Turkey from being able to do everything it can to help,” he added.
The Turkish defense minister recently stated that Ankara has since January deported 1,112 foreign fighters trying to reach ISIL.
The British government estimates that up to 600 people have left Britain to go to Syria and Iraq, while more than 200 people were arrested last year on terrorism charges, according to the British police.