International Cooperation is Needed to Combat

Kerim Uras 04.05.2012
Illegal migration is a hot topic in Greek society these days, especially in an environment of economic crisis. In todays complex picture, as Turkey we have no doubt in our minds that illegal migration must be stoped, economic migrants must be sent back their homes and the smugglers must be brought to justice. It is timely to revise what is being done between Greece and Turkey to combat this scourge.

Turkey is not the source of illegal migration and it is not Turkish citizens that use these routes; it is third country nationals. Because we equally suffer, it is definitely in Turkey’s interest to put a stop the flow of illegal migration, and we are indeed taking decisive steps to combat it.

We have taken measures to improve our administrative and legislative framework. An Umbrella Council was established to improve local coordination. The number and capacity of the Return Centers have been increased. Training programs for personnel were organized, and an efficient internal inspection system was established. With amendments in the Penal Code, human smuggling was defined as a “full crime”, which increased deterrence for smugglers. Efforts on the ground have also been intensified.

In the last 15 years 850 thousand illegal migrants and 12 thousand human smugglers were apprehended by Turkish security forces, 50 thousand last year alone. The efforts of the Turkish and Greek Coast Guards and Frontex, have played a decisive role in decreasing the illegal migration flow by %70 through the Aegean Sea, which is no more an important route.

However, the flow of illegal migration, like when a river is blocked, tries to change its course, which has now become the land border. We have thus intensified our efforts on the common land border with Greece. The number of illegal migrants detained on the 12,5 km land border strip, where the illegal flows were most frequent, has dropped from 15 thousands in 2010 to around 800 in 2011. This is a dramatic drop by any standard. This time migration has shifted to the Evros River areas. We will not cease to work until the figure drops to zero. This is an ambitious target and in all fairness, is not feasible if not strengthened with a further technologically advanced and well funded program.

We consider the Readmission Protocol with Greece as a significant tool. The opening of the Dikili/İzmir Readmission Sea Port in 2010 has played an important role in the Aegean. The signing of the Joint Declaration between our two counties, in May 2010 was significant. Competent authorities of the two countries convened more than ten times at local and central levels. Most recently, contact persons have been assigned between the Turkish Armed Forces in the region and their Greek counterparts.

We are also willing to improve cooperation with other EU countries, as well as with the European Commission. We initialed the Cooperation Memorandum with Frontex on 15 March 2012. Furthermore, we are ready to increase the number of common projects with the EU and initiate programs among transit and destination countries that are located on migration routes.

It is also necessary to distinguish between illegal migration and the visa requirement. Illegal migrants do not respect visas, passport formalities or borders. Visas only deter “bona fide” travelers and spending tourists. Following the decision to abolish the visa requirement for special (green) passports in August 2010, the Turkish tourists visiting Greece increased by % 180 within a few months and % 50 more the following year, reaching 500 thousand a year. If we apply the same procedure for ordinary passports, we could double this number within a year. The removal of visas would have a multiplying effect on our economic, trade and investment relations. Furthermore, abolishing visas for Turkey would result in an alignment of our visa systems, and this would help combating illegal migration further to the East.

I believe that we must continue to work earnestly and patiently to end illegal migration, which is a dynamic phenomenon. We must understand that illegal migration is an international problem, and international cooperation is needed to combat it, instead of giving in to xenophobia or racism. As Turkey, we are working hard to further improve our cooperation both with Greece and with the EU to tackle this issue.

Kerim Uras

Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Greece


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