Aylan Kurdi’s death a minor interruption in Bodrum smuggling trade

At beach where Syrian child’s body washed up, desperate migrants still wait to cross

 Aylan Kurdi (3): less than a week after his death, it’s as if nothing happened. Photograph: Reuters/Kurdi family

Aylan Kurdi (3): less than a week after his death, it’s as if nothing happened. Photograph: Reuters/Kurdi family

 

Though European leaders have pledged to take in greater numbers of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, the waters around Turkey’s southwest Mediterranean coast, a tourist Mecca for European sun seekers, remain a deadly barrier to those seeking a new life in the European Union.

By day the sun bakes down on winding roads where teenage boys tend to cattle. Mini buses ferry elderly locals to the towns of Akyarlar and Bodrum to buy groceries. But at night a different world emerges; police cars patrol the streets and side routes that lead to hidden sea coves. Out on the water, the flashing blue and red lights of a Turkish coast guard ship remind hopeful migrants that getting past the police and into the water even under darkness is no guarantee of success.

The poignant and shocking images of drowned three- year-old Aylan Kurdi on a Bodrum beach last Wednesday have captured the world’s attention and drawn renewed focus on the effects of Syria’s devastating war. He and his family had managed to get 500 metres off shore before their flimsy raft took on water.

Failed crossings

At a wooded area south of Akyarlar evidence of failed and abandoned crossings are everywhere; deflated dinghies, children’s clothes and pizza boxes are strewn across patches of undergrowth.

For the dozen or so Pakistani migrants who have travelled almost 6,000km and found themselves living for weeks among these trees, life consists of being hunted by police by night and sheltering under cardboard boxes by day.

Smugglers charge as little as €900 per person per crossing and if the sea off Akyarlar stays calm at night, the voyage to Kos can succeed even in small crafts powered by electric propellers. For these reasons the end of summer, which is lucrative for traffickers and inevitably deadlier for migrants seeking a last chance to cross before the arrival of winter winds, is a crucial period for all concerned.

Life goes on

Life appears back to normal. Turkish families play along the shore while Dutch tourists staying at the Woxxie hotel nearby saunter down to deckchairs to sun bathe. It’s as if nothing happened.

Turkish newspapers have reported that four Syrian men were arrested last week on allegations of trafficking and involvement in the deaths of Aylan, his five-year-old brother, mother and nine others. However, police say there’s been no let-up in attempted crossings even since the attention to this region brought by the toddler’s drowning.

Outside Bodrum airport 60km up the coast, an immaculately-dressed young man from Damascus is sitting waiting for a lift. He is one of over 11 million Syrians – more than half the entire population – forced from his home.“Syria is gone. It’s a playing field for other countries,” he says. “You can forget about Syria.”