Emigration. On February 11, Turkish newspapers reported that Turkish troops had occupied a nine-mile buffer strip inside northern Iraq to prevent Kurds from entering Turkey in the event of a military action against Iraq. During the Persian Gulf war, one million refugees, most of them Kurds, fled to Turkey from Iraq.
Turkey reported that it had detained nearly 9,300 people, mainly Iraqis, during the first 11 months of 1997 as they tried to enter neighboring Greece, up from 6,250 during the first 11 months of 1996. Most of those caught near the Greek border are briefly detained and fined a small amount. Most pay smugglers $1,000 to $2,000, and many make multiple attempts to enter Greece, and then travel to France or Germany to request asylum.
Greece apprehended about 12,000 foreigners attempting entry in 1996, and complains that Turkey has not signed an agreement on readmitting immigrants caught in Greece who passed through Turkey.
One February 11, the Greek labor minister warned illegal immigrants living in Greece to register and pay their dues to the Greek state or be deported. "The asylum status in place until now is ending. Those who don't have a residency card after the May deadline will have to leave the country," the Greek labor minister stated.
A law passed last year calls on the immigrants to register at labor ministry offices around the country to obtain a green card which will be both a residency and work permit. The deadline to register is in May and thousands of refugees queue up daily outside state offices to obtain the necessary forms.
Government officials estimate that about 65,000 refugees have applied and the total number of applicants is expected to reach 150,000 in 1998. An estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants, half of whom are from Albania, live in Greece.
One Turkish policeman commented, "As a country, we have no responsibility for this. We are just stuck between Iraq and Greece and nothing else. "
A report in the Chicago Tribune says that most of the major immigrant smuggling groups in Turkey operate out of Istanbul. Rides to the Turkish-Greek border cost several hundred dollars, while costs can rise as high as $3,000 for land passage on the Greek side to Athens or the port of Patras, where immigrants try to buy continued passage to Italy. Transportation by sea from Turkey into Greece or Italy costs several thousand dollars. Most of the immigrants spend nearly all their money on transportation, leaving little to start their new lives.
The Chicago Tribune on February 11, 1998 traced the attempt of two 28 year-old Iraqi Kurds from Suleimaniyah to get into the UK where one has a sister; they ended up in Badolato, Italy. They left Iraq for Iran, and then slipped into Turkey, crossing Turkey by bus to reach Istanbul.
In Istanbul, their options were (1) a false Dutch or German passport and one-way plane ticket for $8,000 (2) passage by ship to Greece or Italy for $4,000 per adult or $2,000 per child, or (3) walking to Greece, crossing the Meric River on the Greek-Turkish border for $1,500 per group of six to 15, payable in Athens. Those caught on the Greek-Turkish border are usually returned to Istanbul rather than Iraq, so they tried this route five times, and were caught each time.
They then tried the ship route, paying $8,000 for passage on the Lebanese freighter Ararat that was leaving Istanbul on December 22, 1997 with 830 passengers, including 420 Kurds and 350 Egyptians and others. The Ararat's crew abandoned the ship near Italy on December 29, and has not been caught; the Ararat ran aground in Soverato, Italy.
Italy gave the two Iraqis 15 days to leave the country. However, Badolato, a town that has dropped from 7,000 residents in 1950 to 624 today, offered them temporary shelter, and 20 of the Kurds were given empty houses, including the two profiled. They applied for asylum, and plan to remain in Badolato until their cases are decided. In some cases, Italy detains asylum seekers, but camps are not well guarded and many reportedly disappear from them.
On February 12, Greek soldiers rescued a hundred Iraqi Kurds who had been stranded on an islet in the middle of the Evros river as they tried to enter Greece from Turkey. About half of those stranded were women and children.
In Turkey, 100 of the 150 members of the banned pro-Islamic Welfare party in the Turkish Parliament formed a new political party, Virtue. Several leaders of the disbanded Welfare party are in Germany; some may request asylum there.
Stephen Kinzer, "Standoff with Iraq: The Turks; Army Walls Off the Kurds," New York Times, February 12, 1998. Tom Hundley, "They See Us as Human Brings: Refugees' Perilous Path Ends in an Italian Town," Chicago Tribune, February 11, 1998. "Turkish Troops May Enter Iraq to Prevent Refugee Migration," Associated Press, February 9, 1998. Brian Murphy, "With Little to Lose, Some Kurds Risk All for Freedom," Chicago Tribune, February 4, 1998. Scott Peterson, "In Turkey, an Industry Rises to Profit From Peril," Christian Science Monitor, February 4, 1998.