Twenty-four illegal migrants lost their lives on Wednesday when a boat carrying them sank in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Ezine, a district in the northwestern province of Çanakkale.
Initial reports said the migrants were traveling to the island of Lesbos in Greece through Turkey when their boat sank. Twelve others who were also on the boat during the accident were rescued alive, according to reports. The cause of the boat's sinking remains unknown. The boat reportedly sank in international waters.
Çanakkale coast guard teams were reportedly also deployed to the area to assist a plane and rescue helicopters with the rescue efforts, which are still ongoing. No further details of the incident have been revealed.
In a separate incident which took place last week, a boat carrying 15 illegal migrants sank in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Muğla province. The accident reportedly occurred at 4 a.m. between the Hüseyin Point Lighthouse of the village of Akyarlar, near Bodrum, and the Greek island of Kos.
Seven bodies have been found since the boat reportedly sank last Thursday. The coast guard said the dead included a woman, two men and two children of unknown age. They were identified as Syrian by the ID cards on them when they were found.
Turkey is both a transit and source country for human smuggling. European countries are the favored destinations for people seeking employment opportunities, due to greater rights given to immigrants and the lack of heavy penalties for illegal entry into Europe.
As a country lying on the route to European countries, Turkey has become a center of human smuggling, particularly since the 1990s. Since the costs of arranging illegal passage to European countries via Turkey are lower than other routes, human smugglers see Turkey as an ideal country. The routes that take illegal migrants from the Middle East and Asia to Europe via the northern Black Sea or the Mediterranean are much more expensive and risky.
According to data from the General Staff, 16,912 people who were trying to enter or exit Turkey illegally were captured by authorities over the past eight months.
The would-be destination of most of the illegal migrants is Europe. Figures suggest an increase in the number of Syrian illegal migrants over the past months as the country has been suffering from political turmoil over the past 18 months.
Turkey began to welcome refugees fleeing the violence in Syria shortly after the Bashar al-Assad government started its bloody campaign against opposition forces roughly 18 months ago.
The General Staff's data show that most of the illegal migrants in Turkey come from Syria, Myanmar, Morocco, Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine and Somalia. There are also illegal migrants from Mali, Algeria, Nigeria, Eritrea, Angola, Burma, Georgia and China.