The Turkish Shores:
A perilous crossing
“ He looked out at the sea as if the key to his memory lay behind the waves. ”
World public opinion was shocked last September when the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed onto a beach on the Bodrum peninsula on Turkey's Aegean coast. It was the most publicized of a mostly ignored succession of tragedies that have characterized this not-so-clandestine maritime crossing to the Greek islands. The International Organization for Migration calculates that over one million people landed in Greek territory in 2015 alone, and registered 806 deaths in the treacherous waters of the Aegean Sea. This mass movement of people has generated a sizable illegal economy stretching from Syria to Sweden. In Turkey, it is particularly visible in the ancient port of Izmir, the country's third largest city, and in Bodrum, a picturesque vacation destination. Thousands of refugees—mostly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, but also Pakistanis, Iranians and Africans—crowd the streets of the central Izmir neighborhood of Basmane, making arrangements with one of the hundreds of human smugglers that are thought to operate in the city. All kinds of stores in the area have resorted to selling bright orange life jackets (manufactured in Izmir and not quite up to standard) as well as other accessories for the refugees such as pneumatic tubes, waterproof pouches, and external smartphone chargers. Dozens of inflatable rafts cross daily from multiple points along the so-called Turkish Riviera, and traverse the scarce ten miles to the Greek islands: Lesbos, Chios, Kos and a handful of others. Stretches of beach throughout the coast are littered with vestiges of this mass flight, the remains of myriad anonymous stories. The spectres of the drowned haunt the scenery.