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Politics & Government

Turkey Hears Criticism For Failing To Control Flow Of Migrants


Turkey has come under criticism for not doing more to stop the flow of migrants, but Turkish officials note that their country has taken in more Syrian refugees than any place else - by a lot. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Istanbul. And, Peter, one place to start is to ask what is Turkey doing to control the migrant traffic, and what more could it be doing?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, the most visible effort is by the Coast Guard. The Turkish Coast Guard is more visible on the Aegean. They've caught or rescued more than 33,000 migrants, they say. There's also an increased police presence. They're looking out for people who might be waiting to get into these small boats. But the numbers are frankly against them. While lots of the roughly 2 million refugees in Turkey are in camps, there are many, many more living in communities around the country. So it's really hard to keep track and control their movement. And this huge increase in people going for the small boats, it kind of reflects what we've seen in other areas like the Channel Tunnel entrance in France. If enough migrants move at the same time, this theory goes, some are bound to get through.

Now, critics are saying Turkey could be doing a lot more to control the flow. They'd say Ankara (ph) really doesn't mind seeing several thousand refugees leave and become somebody else's problem. But the fact is locking up refugees is very problematic in terms of international law, basic humanitarian principles, which this is supposed to be about. And Turkey has a pretty good response to the question of why the border patrol isn't doing more. Most of them are already deployed down on the 600-mile border with Syria.

CORNISH: You mention critics. What about Turkish citizens? How do they feel about the government and how it's trying to control the situation?

KENYON: They're not happy with what they're seeing. The tourism season is suffering. The businesses are down. There are some bright signs. One official, the labor minister, said these refugees - don't worry, they're not going to be getting work permits except for working within the camps and things like that. Although, I should note that it hasn't translated into a surge in anti-migrant politics so far, which we have seen in European countries, and that may be one reason why we're not seeing Europe step up and ask to take in more refugees.

CORNISH: Yeah, where is the international community? I mean, what kind of help is Turkey getting?

KENYON: Well, some assistance is coming in - tens of millions of dollars by one account. But Turkish officials say that it's not nearly enough. The president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says European countries in particular need to step up, and this has really cost Turkey several billion dollars so far and will only get more expensive it looks like. Having started out trying to handle all this by itself, Turkey is now reaching out for help, but they're finding it inadequate to say the least.

CORNISH: This is obviously a huge economic and political issue for Europe. Is there a security issue as well?

KENYON: Well, this is something that hasn't gotten a lot of attention so far. Could jihadists from ISIS or another terrorist group be mixing in with these migrants heading to Greece and then hopefully on to France, Germany, Scandinavia, elsewhere? There isn't a lot of evidence that this is happening so far that I've seen anyway, but analysts who talk to me say it's definitely worrying European officials. It's basically the same problem as down on the Syrian border. Turkey's taken a lot of hits for allowing extremist fighters from ISIS and other groups to cross that border rather freely. That's a charge it denies. But if they can't keep track of who's coming into Turkey or crossing that border, how can they track who's leaving either on these boats to Greece or by some other route?

CORNISH: That' NPR's Peter Kenyon. He spoke to us from Istanbul. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.