Turkish deputy PM Kurtulmus reveals Turkey considering law to punish traffickers more heavily under terror charge.
ANKARA (AA) – Turkish deputy prime minister has warned that those behind human trafficking of asylum seekers risked facing terrorism charges in Turkey.
Addressing a gathering of foreign journalists in the Turkish capital Ankara Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the Council of Ministers has been working on a law that will consider organizing (trafficking of) illegal migrants (into Europe from Turkey) as a terror crime.
"These actions are going to be considered under [Turkey’s] penal code," Kurtulmus said.
Kurtulmus said approximately 4,800 such traffickers had been caught in 2015, half of whom were behind bars pending trial.
"We know these [traffickers] organizers' access points, very detailed security measures have been taken [to deal with them]," he said. "We also dug deep on illegal productions [of items used to traffic people] like life vests and boats," he added.
The deputy premier also said that approximately 156,000 asylum seekers had been caught in Turkey in 2015, out of which 91,000 were rescued from the sea.
He said the world did not realize the seriousness of the refugee crisis until people saw the body of three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while fleeing the Syrian war.
"We have been saying for three years now, if a safe zone had been built in the northern part of Syria, then the current migrant issue would not have been hard to handle," Kurtulmus said.
"Turkey is hosting nearly three million migrants, 2.7 million of them are Syrians," he said, adding that the total cost of hosting them came to $8.5 billion dollars.
- Fate of refugees at sea
About an allegation made in the Greek parliament that Turkey did not want refugees back if they are found at sea by NATO troops and ships, Kurtulmus said NATO troops and ships in the Aegean Sea and along the Turkey-Syria border collect information and intelligence, who then inform Turkish troops and ships to collect refugees from the sea. He added that Turkey's willingness to take refugees back remained "under negotiation".
About when the upcoming EU-Turkey summit will be held, he said the Turkish Foreign Ministry is working on it and a meeting is expected during March.
"We have very good relations and both sides [EU and Turkey] are encouraging each other in a positive way. Refugee question is at the heart of new relations with the EU. The second issue is visa liberation for Turkish citizens. We have positive approaches from both sides," Kurtulmus added.
- Cost of terror
Kurtulmus also spoke about the effects of terrorism on Turkey.
"We have more than 40,000 martyrs and terror's cost to Turkey [since 2014] is $1.5 trillion with minimum estimations," he said. "That means terror stole 20 years from Turkey."
When asked if giving police more authority would make Turkey a police state, Kurtulmus said the law in Turkey made the police capable of fighting against terror and illegal activities.
"But we of course need extra measures. There were extra measures taken by French government when the Charlie Hebdo incident happened [in 2015 and] by the London government when the metro attacks happened ," he added.
- Right to defend territory
When asked whether the "cessation of hostilities" agreement between the U.S. and Russia could hold Turkey back from retaliating to attacks by YPG forces, Kurtulmus said Turkey is not attacking YPG forces on purpose.
"Turkey is trying to defend itself, it’s territory, its forces. Categorically, we support the peace process, but we have some reservations," he said.
"Especially, reservations over the possible actions of the Russian troops towards Syrian moderate opposition groups. We support the peace process, but we have some fears about the future of the six-month talks in the peace process," he added.
About whether Turkey will retaliate if it was attacked by YPG forces, Kurtulmus said: "Of course, Turkey has the right to defend its territory".