His name is Osman. Or, that's how he introduced himself. He is one of the top members of the Turkish mafia doing business upon migrants and refugees in Turkey. He is not hiding ... “If the Turkish government didn't want us to do the job we do, we couldn't pass to Greece not even a fly” says disarmingly.
Stratis Balaskas for the Athens News Agency
He has a store in İzmir selling food stuff. It is a big store in Basmane, the district of Greeks and Jews before 1922, which was saved from the fire. The Turks in the district call him "Damascus". As they say "there are more Syrians here than in Syria". However, the picture of the area is not as it was last summer. There are no Syrians in the streets. The municipality authorities re-planted the grass in parks, there is not even a single Syrian.
Yet ... there are!
Osman explains to us that now “they stay in houses which have been rented especially for this purpose. They cannot move freely, their transportation is done through private cars which take them from their houses and leave them on starting points. From there they are being transferred to the departure spots.”
They are being transferred through many ways that show the size and the ruthlessness of the network.
So, migrants and refugees have been transported by Osman in areas at the Turkish side, located across Lesvos and Chios, through buses carried by trucks for roadside assistance. Through school buses during the hours that are not being used for the transportation of the kids. Through convoys of private vehicles, which means that even if a car would be stopped by the police, the others could continue to their destination. But there is also ... VIP transportation, like of rich Arabs with Russian escorts, even through ... hearses! The latest, as Osman says, are expensive services and being paid nearly as much as the trip to islands.
But lets go back to İzmir where we find the base of the network. Under the fear of the measures that allegedly will be taken by the Turkish authorities, after the European pressure, the network has the following plan schedule.
On the top stand the members of the mafia. Most of them do this job for more than 20 years. The old times were doing it for a nice daily wage. Now, and especially the latest year, there is too much money in the business and it is worth someone to risk.
On the other side of the network stand some locals. They possess some spaces from where the boats can start their journey safely. They are responsible to keep the passage safe and clean. They are also responsible for the training of someone among the passengers on how should handle the boat. Or, they should pay someone, say 100 euros each time, to transfer the boat with the passengers to the islands and return to the base.
In the middle of these groups, there are mainly two categories of people involved. The "dealers", which are those who find "customers" and pass them to the top members of the mafia. They are doing it through Facebook pages, or, phone numbers that are distributed among the "customers". They "fill" the boat with passengers every time that the top members have one ready for departure.
Close to them stand the "bankers" of the network who are responsible for receiving the payments. Anyone who wants to be transported pays them through any way he/she can. With money or services. Jewelry, valuable stones, or even archaeological pieces! From the moment of the payment, he/she has three days to pass to Europe. After the end of the journey, every migrant and refugee calls a phone number and gives a code number which has been provided when he/she paid. Then, the payments are "released" and the "banker" has to pay everyone involved. About 15-20% is being paid to all who are involved to the transportation and the rest goes to the top member of the network, in our case, Osman.
“Why do you take most of the money?”, we ask him. He explains that he has too much expenses. He pays for the plastic boats which, depending on their size and the quality of the engine, cost between 800 and 20,000 euro! These are being bought legally. Therefore, the police can't do anything, even if they stop him while carrying the boats.
He also pays the "bankers". They take between 20 and 100 euro for every payment. They also keep all the money from those who do not call to confirm that they arrived at the destination, either because they have been drowned, or have been arrested by the coast guard and have been sent back to camps in South-East Turkey.
“I don't want blood money” [!], Osman says with audacity. But frequently claims that there are “rules of morality” in his job. Because, as he says, the top members “are moral”! They do not let people pass under stormy sea. They do not fill with more than 50 people every big boat, or 20, every small one. They transport people only in plastic boats. Other locals and Arabs are responsible for the wooden boats. Those Arabs “we had as mediators because of the language, but they opened their own businesses and sent people to be drowned. These are usually being caught by the Turkish coast guard, or they risk transporting people with big boats resulting in accidents like the one that happened in Lesvos in 28th October.”
Osman is completely informed about the situation in Lesvos. He knows about the accidents, the dead people, the hot spots, and all the problems in the islands. He knows of course very well what happens also in Turkey. For example, he said that during a weekend last month, no one passed to Lesvos because of the presence of Erdogan in the area for the celebration of olive collection. "We should not provoke" says laughing.
He says goodbye “because he has work to do”. We ask him if he worries for telling these things to us. He's not afraid. “I told you again” he says. “If the Turkish government didn't want us to do the job we do, we couldn't pass to Greece not even a fly”! Besides, he made a lot of money. “I don't have to work. Neither my children and my grandchildren. Today, if someone tells me to stop, i'll do it. But no one tells me ...” he says as we leave!
Translated from the original source: