Turkey has become a major migration route, with an increasing number of illegal immigrants - many from unstable countries such as Syria and Iraq - crossing the border to seek refuge in the European Union, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
As a result, Turkey is witnessing an ever-growing number of people being trafficked. From 1995-2007, nearly 700,000 illegal immigrants were apprehended in Turkey, according to the ministry. In 2013, this number rose to over 1 million.
A ministry spokesperson said many migrants favor Turkey due to its geopolitical location and socioeconomic attractions, in contrast to neighboring countries. This has led to more people being trafficked into and within the country.
Dr Stephanie Nawyn, assistant professor of sociology at Michigan State University, travelled to Istanbul in 2013, and said the central cause for high human trafficking rates in Turkey and the link to increased migration comes down to space.
“In conversations with immigrants and officials, I found that what Istanbul lacked was physical space, as in physical and socio-cultural space to exist and flourish, leading a dignified life.”
According to Nawyn’s research, migrants are rarely kidnapped off the streets and forced into trafficking. Instead, they are enticed with the promise of a new and better life.
“The lack of space for immigrants makes them more vulnerable to human trafficking because it limits the opportunities for them to claim rights,” she said.
A Turkish government spokesperson said the magnitude of the problem means the EU needs to help in finding a solution.
“Providing shelter, food, medical treatment, as well as bearing return costs of such high numbers of illegal immigrants puts a heavy financial burden on Turkey, a country that is already strained.”
The European Commission office for human trafficking said it is not up to EU states to deal with the issue of people who are trafficked within Turkey, but to speak with migrants who have travelled from Turkey to EU countries and have subsequently become trafficked.
However, the EU commissioner for home affairs, Cecilla Malmstrom, said in October: “Eradicating human trafficking was not high on the political agenda when I took office five years ago, but today we are working tirelessly in Europe and beyond our borders.”
A spokesperson for Malmstrom’s office said: “Our policy is to strengthen cooperation with non-EU countries” to “prevent the increase in trafficked victims.”
When asked what was being done practically to work with non-EU countries such as Turkey and other popular migrant routes, the commissioner’s office was unable to comment.
The International Organization for Migration says many of the migrants who are trafficked into Turkey use the country as a route to EU states.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said: “A combined solution involving the EU and other countries concerned is the only solution.
“As the central cause of increased rates of human trafficking into and within Turkey is due to growth in migration and with some of the migrants who have been trafficked into the country coming from EU, it only makes sense that more involvement should be seen from the Union.
“With the Turkish government already facing a strain on resources due to an increase in migrants there is an expectation that the EU could and should do something to work with them to decrease human trafficking amongst migrant communities who arrive into the country from EU locations.”SHOW MORE