A smuggler’s story from the Syrian, Turkish border

DPA Reporters

6 minute read

A people smuggler explains how he spirits fellow Syrians across a carefully guarded border and into Turkey. 

ISTANBUL, TUrkey DPA -Syrian man Omar became a people smuggler on the border with Turkey after losing his job as a construction worker. He now relies on his smuggling activities to feed and clothe his young family. But Turkey's border security crackdown has meant lean times for Omar and his small band of fellow smugglers. This is his story:

OMAR:

In the past, I was a construction worker, but when the protests started, I became unemployed. I moved to the countryside. I had some relatives there, and hoped that I could find a job to earn my living.

A few times, I noted some of my cousins were mentioning the Syrian-Turkish border and I heard about deals related to smuggling. You know, someone like me needs money to make his living for his family. He is is ready to do any kind of work for that.

I joined a group of my relatives who work as smuggler, it is a systematic profession, every individual in our group has a certain work to do. When I joined them, my mission was just to keep an eye on a certain part of a route and to watch the border guards there. We have people to watch paths, others guide the clients over the paths to cross the borders and some to make the deal with the clients.

Q: Do you have a boss and how many members do you have in your group?

OMAR:

No, we do not have a boss. We work as a team, we discuss and consult, then decide. The number of the members in our group depends on how many routes we can use, but generally we are seven people. We can hire more if we manage to use more than one way to cross (the border).

Q: Are there other groups who work near the border?

OMAR:

Yes, there are. Each group has its own routes which they use to make people cross into Turkey. We cannot use their's, nor can they use ours. It is like an agreement but problems are possible everywhere.

Q: What kind of routes do you use and how do you operate?

OMAR:

We mainly depend on paths via mountains, this is the nature of our area.

Firstly, our members, who are responsible for watching, can decide if our routes are closed or not, if routes are closed like now we postpone the work for the next night.

Secondly, there are rules for the clients they must adhere to:

1. We need total silence during the operation to pass into Turkey;

2. No lights at all, we depend on phone calls to coordinate the teamwork. We don't use apps, because they will spread light and that makes us visible for Turkish border guards. We also make our phones silent so what we are to not be heard;

3. No conversations among clients.

4. If the clients are caught, they must not tell the Turkish border guards about the guides, the clients can pretend that the traffickers - the guides in the group - have run away.

Q: How much time does a trip take?

OMAR:

Sometimes, the client must walk for three hours in the darkness to cross if we do not fail or get caught by Turkish guards. Now, with regard to the situation at borders, it is difficult. With time, Turkey makes the work worse and worse for us. Nowadays, we barely are successful to serve our clients, last month, each member from my group only got $US25 22 EUROS).

Q: Did you witness any incidents where someone was injured or killed during your work?

OMAR: Concerning to my group - no. We had no losses, either from my team nor clients. But yes, I know that four people from other groups were killed by shots from Turkish guards, and a client was injured as well.

Rebels like Ahrar and Al Nusra are watching us, we cannot commit mistakes. They do not have deals with us nor interfere into our business. But you can find rebel members who work for us because the salary is low and he wants to make a living. Personally, me and my group, we adhere to their rules, and help them if we for example catch drug dealers or see something that breaks the rules.

Q: What about the money? How do you make the deal with your clients? And how much do the clients pay?

OMAR:

Well, we are good people in comparison to other groups. We do not take a lot of cash, and sometimes we do not take money at all.

We know why people are leaving Syria - most of them lost jobs; some lost their houses.

They search for safety and to make their living. I cannot say to someone 'OK, you should pay $US200 (178 euros) or go back to your destroyed house.

We don't any money for the passage of children. For example, if I have clients like parents and four children, I just take money for the parents. Regarding how we make a deal, the client gives me the required money before he or she crosses over to Turkey.

If they are caught, I will give the money back - that is the deal. These days, I just take $US150 (134 euros) for each client. Some groups take $US500 or $US800 (446 to 713 euros).

Q: How much do you receive, as a smuggler?

OMAR:

You can say I just get enough money to buy what I need and help my family because the situation at the border is changeable and now it is more difficult.

Q: Do you have partners in Turkey?

OMAR:

Not partners, but you can say we guarantee to our clients that there are people on the Turkish side who will transport them to the Turkish interior. And they must pay them a certain amount of money as well.

The Turkish authorities, they are ready to kill us. If they catch one of us, we are lucky if they leave him with broken bones. They could imprison us as well.

Q: Where do your clients want to go, after Turkey?

OMAR:

Actually, in the summer of 2016, all my clients wanted to move to European countries but now, no one wants to move there for two reasons.

First, it becomes more difficult to move there due to the new strict rules at the European borders. And second, the aggressive speech against refugees and Muslims.

Q: Do you have partners whose job it is to take refugees to Europe?

OMAR: No, we do not. Our service is just to cross into Turkey. But I know some groups who have partners in Turkey. They provide services to cross to Germany, Sweden or other countries.

Q: Do not think working as a smuggler is wrong?

OMAR:

Well, theoretically, it is wrong to have such a profession and illegal. But practically I am doing two good things: giving a hand to people who have been suffering for six years to leave Syria and live peacefully until this war is over. And secondly, I am providing my family with what they need.

*** Omar's name has been changed to protect his identity.

MINDS/dpa