Turkey cracks down on migrant trafficking after talks with EU

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Turkish police on Saturday detained 72 suspected migrant traffickers in operations across the country following an agreement on the need for consensus reached in Brussels between Turkish and European Union officials regarding renewal of a 2016 migrant deal to reduce the number of migrants taking the Aegean Sea route to Europe.

Police launched simultaneous operations in 12 provinces to capture a total of 94 suspects upon the order of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the state-run Anadolu agency reported.

Operations are ongoing to apprehend 22 others who are at large, it added.

Out of the 72 suspects, 13 were remanded into custody, and at least eight dinghies were seized as part of the operations, Anadolu said.

During the operations at least 1,477 undocumented migrants from countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq and Syria were also taken into custody, according to the report.

Turkey currently hosts more than 4 million refugees. The country has been a key transit point for migrants aiming to cross into Europe, especially those fleeing war and persecution. More than a million people reached Greece from Turkey in 2015-16, although the numbers later dropped sharply under the 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey for Ankara to take migrants back in return for funds.

In 2020, before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Turkey opened its border with Greece, allowing migrants to leave the country, with Ankara accused by the international community of using human lives as bargaining chips in return for more assistance from the European Union.

The EU in December said it had allocated to Turkey the full 6 billion euros ($7.3 billion) pledged in 2016.

The EU funds were earmarked for specific social projects inside Turkey for helping refugees and was not paid directly to the Turkish government.

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