By Furkan Naci Top
Monday's tragic boat accident near Istanbul – where more than 20 suspected illegal immigrants died – could be the first in other such incidents along the Black Sea, a migration expert has warned.
"We can expect a further increase in migrant traffic on this route since security measures have been tightened along other channels," said Ahmet Icduygu, the head of the Migration Research Center at Koc University, Istanbul.
The vessel was thought to be en route to Romania and was carrying around 40 people when it capsized three miles offshore the northern end of the 31-kilometer Bosphorus strait.
At least 24 people died; only six survivors have been found so far by Turkish coast guards.
"This is how it goes in migration; if you block one way, another way opens," Icduygu says.
"This boat accident is the first incident of this scale in the Black Sea," Icduygu adds, hinting at a more active mobilization in the region.
Icduygu said that the number of people who have died migrating across the Mediterranean Sea has increased fivefold this year alone when compared to 2013 figures, soaring from 600 deaths to more than 3,000.
Turkey is one of the main routes for migrants or refugees seeking a better life in Europe.
The number of refugees who have taken shelter on Turkish soil surged dramatically in the last three years, particularly after civil war erupted in neighboring Syria.
Turkey is now home to a 1.6 million Syrians, plus more than 160,000 migrants from other countries, including Afghans, Africans and other Arab nationalities.
The boat that sank on Monday was transporting mainly Afghan migrants according to Turkey's transportation minister; nine Afghanistan passports have been recovered.
Icduygu says there are now two major gateways to Europe left for immigrants: Turkey and Italy. "Italy has been a destination for migrants particularly after the Arab Spring," he says.
Italy has recently ended its 'Mare Nostrum' rescue operation, which saved the lives of tens of thousands of illegal migrants since last October.
Greek coast guards and border security measures – with the help of the EU's border management agency, Frontex – also ramped up their efforts to block migrants coming through neighboring Turkey.
"We know that all these efforts by the European authorities shifted the channel for migrants towards Bulgaria in the last two years," Icduygu says.
However, Turkey's northwestern neighbor is not so welcoming.
Human Rights Watch in September accused the Bulgarian security services of using excessive force against Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the EU-member country.
Bulgaria also announced plans last year to build a 32km-long wall on its Turkish border.
Back in Istanbul, Turkish media have reported that the price of a ticket for the Afghans’ fateful journey was 7,000 euro (nearly $9,000) – an unusually high sum, Icduygu says.
Small groups of human traffickers will continue to establish networks for desperate asylum seekers and they are never short of customers.
Turkey has detained nearly a million illegal immigrants in the last 20 years, according to the professor.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.