Turkey: Trafficking Boats Intercepted after UN Warns of Crisis

Two incidents involving migrant boats near the Turkish coast have followed UN warnings last week that Syrian refugees are being driven into the arms of human traffickers in a growing humanitarian crisis.

Turkish Coast Guard Patrol Boat At least five migrants died as a boat capsized off the coast of south-west Turkey early this morning, according to Turkish media.

In the second of two serious episodes in the space of a week, the vessel sank in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Muğla province with 15 migrants from Syria and Iraq on board. Its intended destination was the Greek island of Kos.

Local fishermen spotted it sinking, and the Turkish coastguard rescued eight people. A search is underway for other survivors.

The tragedy comes days after the Turkish coastguard stopped a cargo ship packed with 337 migrants bound for EU waters by opening fire and boarding the vessel.

Agence France Presse reports that on Thursday, Mar. 12, Turkish authorities chased down the 59-meter cargo ship in the Dardanelles Strait in north-west Turkey. It was caught after the coastguard fired on its engines. In the aftermath, five were arrested on suspicion of organizing human trafficking, including two Turkish citizens.

Last week the UN Refugee Agency warned of the growing humanitarian crisis of refugees fleeing from Syria, saying: “Thousands have tried to reach Europe by taking often deadly land or sea routes after paying their life savings to smugglers. Many have not made it.”

In January, ships filled with hundreds of Syrian migrants were abandoned by traffickers off the coast of Italy, leaving them stranded at sea. On one vessel, passengers reported paying up to US$ 8000 to be taken from Turkey to Italy.