AS MANY as 20,166 migrants trying to illegally migrate to different countries were rescued in 629 operations from Turkey in the Aegean Sea and a total of 42 human traffickers arrested between Jan 1 to July 24, this year.

A total of 18.598 migrants en route to Europe from Turkey were rescued and a total of 39 human traffickers were arrested between Jan. 1 and July 20, the Izmir Governor’s Office said, adding that another 1,568 migrants were rescued alone between July 20 and 24.

Another three human traffickers were also detained between the most recent dates.

Between July 15 and July 20 alone, 1,782 migrants were rescued, with a human trafficker arrested, in 43 operations in the Aegean Sea, the statement said.

Geographically located between war-torn Syria and Iraq in the Southeast and the European Union member states of Bulgaria and Greece in the northwest, Turkey has come to be a transition point for foreign migrants looking to illegally cross into the EU in an endeavor to flee the violence in Iraq and Syria, as well, as have a higher standard of living.

The wave of migration across the Aegean Sea, however, has resulted in injuries and even deaths due to the either the capsizing of migrant-carrying boats or abuse of migrants by human traffickers.

More than 135,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe by sea in the first half of 2015, many of them fleeing war, repression and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

Syrian gangs dominate

Syrians have begun to dominate human smuggling activities in the Aegean Sea that originate in Turkey, police have said.

Recent investigations launched into the human trafficking gangs have shown that Syrians have replaced Turks in becoming the key actors in the organizations.

According to the İzmir Police Department, Turks who have recently been caught were discovered to be engaged in undocumented work, while the managers and people controlling the money flow during the smuggling gangs were often discovered to be Syrians.

“Especially in the past few operations we have determined that Syrians are at the top of the organizations,” an official from the İzmir Police Department said on condition of anonymity.

“The reason for this is the trust a Syrian has toward a [fellow] Syrian. There were cases where [migrant Syrians who wished to illegally reach the EU] were tricked, fooled or left on a coast other than one of the Greek islands,” he said.

An investigation launched by İzmir police and the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) into a human trafficking gang revealed that 19 of the 31 members of the organization were Syrians, who held the crucial positions inside the gang.

A Syrian man, S.S., who himself came to Turkey to flee to the European Union, became the manager of a human smuggling gang. He was learned to have formed a company under the name “Sahil Turizm” (Coast Tourism) and was laundering money through the company to conduct trafficking activities.

A total of 400 million liras in monetary transactions were tracked in the note-books and bank accounts belonging to the company and its members.

The police officer said the current market value for being smuggled into the EU via Turkey ranged from 1,000 to 5,000 euros.

The most expensive, but the safest, way for smuggling is via a jet ski or a speed-boat, which is about 10,000 dollars, the officer said, adding that the smugglers took the migrants one by one on jet skis and dropped them off on a Greek island, while one or very few people were smuggled with speedboats to avoid attracting the attention of the coast guards.