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Turkey Struggles to Cope With Annual Illegal Immigrant Influx

With the arrival of summer, the number of illegal immigrants entering European Union countries is spiking. This is posing a problem for Turkey, a transit point for people seeking to enter the EU It's neighbor, Greece is accusing Turkey of failing to stop the growing tide of clandestine immigration through Turkish territory, which has pushed Athens' resources to the limit.

At the Gaziosmanpasha detention center, an hour's drive north of Istanbul, a police van delivers the latest batch of illegal migrants deported by Greece. The migrants join several hundred others in the camp. Most of them like Sadoon Mahmoud, made great sacrifices in their failed bid to enter Europe

"I paid $7,000 to human traffickers so that take me from Iraq to Greece. They took me through mountains and everywhere it took me 10 days to get there. But then Greece authorities they sent us back to Turkey. I am not a criminal, I am an engineer. I have done nothing against anybody I just want a safe place," he said.

None of the migrants in the camp want to be in Turkey and each new person sent back from Greece only adds to the growing feeling here that Turkey is paying for a EU problem.

A 2002 accord between Athens and Ankara requires Turkey to accept the return of all would-be immigrants from Greece. But there have been reports of Turkish security forces refusing to accept migrants being deported back from Greece. And, the Greek foreign minister earlier this month accused Ankara of not honoring its commitments to stem migration.

The EU has also criticized Ankara of not providing adequate living conditions in the refugee camps.

Ahmet Icduygu, an expert on illegal migration at Istanbul's Koc University says there is a problem that both sides have to face up to.

"To fight against this movement, Turkey needs money. For instance, the United States to control its border spends $5.5 billion per year. But still there is no or little money, coming from the European Union to Turkey. Only they are a few training programs. And in the small police or jandama stations across around the country those police offices there is no single budget item to provide food for them or accommodation to them and in this sense what happens in practice they try to close their eyes instead of catching migrants," Icduygu said.

On Tuesday, European Union Justice Commissioner Jacque Barrot, said the EU would do everything it could to convince Turkey to stem illegal migration in Europe. He also promised financial aid to help Turkey in its efforts. But the commissioner stopped short of specify how much or when funds would be made available.

Still, Brussels is expressing concern over the treatment of detained migrants. Richard Howitt, a member of the European Parliament's committee on Turkey, recently visited a detention center here in Istanbul and was shocked at what he saw.

"What I have observed in the detention center was massive overcrowding, little access to any sort of diversion or to the normal living conditions that are the basic minimum. No access to television no access to the outside world at all. Really pretty grim conditions. One dormitory that I saw was filled with people who were lifeless, not moving. They were clearly serious [ly] ill. Complaints about lack access of medicine and to doctors. And we said it must change," he said.

But, at the Gaziosmanpasha detention center, conditions seem a little better. There doesn't appear to be an overcrowding problem and migrants have limited access to TV. Some can even work. But camp director Mustafa Katcha says the EU, instead of criticizing Turkey, must take more responsibility for the problem.

Turkey is not a rich country, he says, but the rich European countries don't want to understand this. Turkey is not a destination country, it is a transit country. But Europe wants us to deal with consequences of their tougher immigration policies, he says.

Analysts say such a plea is likely to fall on deaf ears in Brussels. More calls for tougher immigration policies and tightening budgets mean Turkey's security forces are bracing for long hot summer.