Ankara, Sep 6 — A surge in smuggling activities along the porous Turkish-Syrian border, one of the consequences of the 30-month-old Syrian crisis, is posing a serious threat to the security of Turkey, analysts say.
The spike in the number of smuggling incidents, which at times turned violent, indicates that Ankara is struggling to contain the fallout from Syria’s border areas which are without state control, reports Xinhua.
“Turkey’s border with Syria is 910 km long, and it is difficult to protect, let alone monitor this border from thousands of Syrians who had to turn to smuggling to survive in the conflict-ridden country,” said Mesut Cevikalp, an expert on Syria, Thursday.
“Job opportunities have been lost among Syrians amid fighting between the opposition and government forces. They mostly smuggle oil across the border to the Turkish side to make money on price differences,” he said.
Oil is moved in 60-litre barrels to the border at night. Smugglers on the Syrian side pay suppliers 40 Turkish lira ($20) for a barrel but sell it for 90 Turkish lira ($45) to their Turkish counterparts, who then sell for 110 to 120 Turkish lira ($55 to $60) in the domestic market.
“Since the mark-up is huge, there is a strong incentive to engage in smuggling,” Cevikalp said.
“With the ‘open door policy’, Turkey has loosened controls along the border. When a lack of security occurred along the border, these groups started to be more active,” said Oytun Orhan, analyst at the Ankara-based Centre for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies.
The Turkish military has employed advanced technological devices, including thermal cameras, to secure border areas. Yet, that may not be enough to deter threats from Syria.
On Aug 3, a consignment of live ammunition exploded as it was being smuggled into Turkey, killing six people in Hatay province. In May, smuggled explosive material was used in the twin car bombing in Reyhanli that killed 52 people.
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has come under fire from the opposition for the flare up in incidents at the border.
“In the past, there were no such incidents happening. The Syrian border leaks like a sieve,” main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.
The intensity and the number of people involved in the illegal business have shot up dramatically in a couple of years along the Syrian border because of lax security and the fighting in Syria.
“The smuggling activity is a lucrative business for powerful tribes now,” Cevikalp said, adding that “smuggling of goods from Syria has contributed to rising prices of basic food commodities as well as of oil”.