DIKILI, Turkey (Reuters) – Turkish authorities on Saturday detained at least two human traffickers after they shuttled some 120 Syrian refugees to the Aegean coast in a sign Turkey may be stepping up efforts to curb the flow of migrants to Europe.
Gendarmes stopped the group, mostly made up of women and children, on a beach near a wooded area by the village of Bademli, located across from the Greek island of Lesbos, a Reuters witness said.
The raid occurred on the eve of a summit in Brussels Monday at which Turkey and the EU will tackle the migrant crisis after more than a million people fleeing turmoil in the Middle East, Africa and Asia sought safety and prosperity in Europe in 2015.
The influx has revealed political faultlines among European Union states and threatened the bloc’s open-border policy.
Europe wants candidate country Turkey to step up security along its coast and take back migrants caught at sea to help reduce the flow of refugees to the EU. In exchange it has pledged 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in funds to help Turkey with the 2.7 million Syrian refugees it hosts.
President Tayyip Erdogan late on Friday accused the EU of dragging its feet on the funds four months.
“You can pay up or not, we have not closed our door to refugees like Westerners have. We’ve kept it open,” Erdogan said, adding he wants to build a city for refugees in northern Syria near the Turkish border with international money but has not received concrete support for the plan from other countries.
On the coast, at least one trafficker escaped on foot, while officers towed away the half-dozen or so minibuses they had driven to the coast. The refugees, who included a pregnant women and newborns, were bussed back to the port city of Izmir.
One Syrian who appeared to be in his 30s said he was forced to attempt the route because of a lack of opportunity in Turkey.
“It’s not bad here but there is no work. I have relatives in Germany and will go to be with them,” he said, declining to give his name.
Separately, news media reported that Turkey had shut its last open border gate with Syria to all traffic except for humanitarian aid convoys and Syrians wishing to leave.
The report on CNN Turk did not give a reason for the decision to shut the Cilvegozu gate in Turkey’s southern Hatay province, located across from Syria’s Bab al-Hawa.
(Reporting by Umit Bektas; writing by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Ros Russell)