Turkey seizes unsafe life vests destined for refugees

January 23, 2016, 7:03am

Refugees and migrants disembark from a dinghy at the Greek island of Lesbos. Nine people died when a dinghy capsized near the island of Kos. (Santi Palacios)  

AFP on News24

Istanbul - Turkish police have seized more than 2 500 unsafe life jackets destined for migrants wanting to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece, in the latest crackdown on businesses exploiting refugees in western Turkey, reports said on Friday.

Police raided 120 underground workshops and companies in eight cities in western and southern Turkey, including Istanbul, and seized the substandard life vests as well as wet suits, diving masks and helmets, Anatolia news agency said.

The products were destroyed by the police, it added.

Earlier this month, police have confiscated over 1 200 unsafe life jackets destined for use by migrants trying to reach Greece by sea, in a raid on an underground workshop that used Syrian under-age labour in Izmir, a city on the Aegean coast.

The news of the latest seizure comes after Greek and Turkish coastguards on Friday recovered the bodies of 44 migrants - including 20 children - whose boats capsized on their way to Greece.

Turkey, which is home to at least 2.2 million refugees from Syria's civil war, has become a hub for migrants seeking to move to Europe, many of whom pay people smugglers thousands of dollars for the risky crossing.

AFP correspondents who reported on the wave of migrants heading from Turkey to Greece have seen a booming trade in life jackets in Turkish resorts for sale at suspiciously low prices.

The life jackets, many of which are simply stuffed with synthetic materials with no buoyancy, have proved of little use to refugees whose bodies have washed up on Turkish beaches after their boats sank while on their way to Greece.

According to the International Organization for Migration, 1 004 356 migrants and refugees reached Europe in 2015 but 3 771 died while crossing the Mediterranean.