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Migrants in limbo

June 30, 2009

Thousands of illegal migrants searching for a new life in the European Union are being deported from Greece to Turkey. But many of these migrants aren't Turkish, so they're ending up in the limbo of refugee camps.

Illegal immigrants sit waiting wrapped in blankets after authorities rounded them up
Experts estimate that up to 150,000 illegal immigrants enter the EU each year through TurkeyImage: AP

Each day, police vans deliver batches of illegal migrants to the Gaziosmanpasha detention center, an hour's drive north of Istanbul. The migrants have been deported from Greece, an entry point into the European Union, where they had hoped to start better lives.

There are several hundred migrants in this camp, and for most of them, like Sadoon Mahmoud, the failed bid to enter Europe was made at great cost. He paid 5,000 euros ($7,000) to human traffickers to take him from Iraq to Greece.

Illegal immigrants clash with riot police
Greek authorities have been cracking down on illegal immigrantsImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

His journey took him 10 days across a wide range of terrain, including mountains, and after all of that, authorities in Greece sent him back to Turkey.

"I am not a criminal, I am an engineer. I have done nothing against anybody I just want a safe place," he told Deutsche Welle.

Who should pay for tougher border controls?

None of the migrants in the camp want to be in Turkey and each new person sent back from Greece only adds to the growing feeling here that Turkey is paying for a EU problem.

Earlier this month Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis accused Ankara of not honoring its commitments to stem migration, and there have been reports of Turkish security forces refusing to accept migrants being deported back from Greece.

A recent EU migration report also criticized Ankara, and while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan angrily rejects these charges, Ahmet Icduygu, an expert on illegal migration at Istanbul's Koc University, says there is a problem that both sides have to face up to.

The Greek, Turkish and European Union flags
Turkey has been trying very hard to become a part of the EUImage: AP

According to Icduygu, while the US spends $5.5 billion a year to control borders, the EU gives Turkey very little or nothing at all.

"In the small police stations around the country, there is no single budget item to provide food for [the police officers] or accommodation for them and, what happens in practice: they try to close their eyes instead of catching migrants," he told Deutsche Welle.

Inspecting detention centers

While the EU isn't sending any aid to Ankara to help with the influx of migrants, they have sent envoys to inspect the living conditions these migrants must endure.

Richard Howitt, a member of the European Parliament from Great Britain, recently visited a detention center in Istanbul and was shocked by what he saw, including "massive overcrowding" in the detention center he visited.

"In one dormitory that I saw, people were lifeless, not moving," he said, "They were clearly seriously ill. There were complaints about lack of access to medicine and to doctors. And we said it must change."

However, this doesn't seem to be a standard for all detention centers. At Gaziosmanpasha, for example, there doesn't appear to be a problem of overcrowding, and migrants have limited access to television and some can even work.

Camp director Mustafa Katcha says Brussels should not just criticize Turkey, but should rather take greater responsibility for the problem.

"Turkey is not a rich country," he explains, "But the rich European countries don't want to understand this. Turkey is not a destination country, it is a transit country. But Europe wants us to deal with consequences of their tougher immigration policies."

Dorian Jones, Gaziosmanpasha refugee camp (mrm)
Editor: Michael Lawton