Basmane is an old residential district of Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city, bathed by the waters of the Aegean Sea. Here, among the steep alleys in which barber shops, restaurants and smoky tea rooms follow one another, 100 meters from the railway terminal and the local police station, is the nodal center of human trafficking, a waypoint to the nearby islands of Lesbos and Chios, then to Europe.
To get an idea, Basmane is similar to a financial stock exchange, but instead of stocks and shares, the value of human life is negotiated. This question is asked by dozens, hundreds of thousands of refugees, mainly Syrians, fleeing war and persecution, eager to reach the other side.
The offer is in the hands of traffickers, who can provide all-inclusive packages that include protection, internal transportation, accommodation, food and, finally, passage to the Aegean islands.
“Depending on the season, the price for the crossing on an inflatable raft varies from €800 to €1,600,” explains Jameh, 31, a Syrian and former employee of the United Nations in Damascus. I met him at a diner run by Syrians, which outside is dominated by a red sign in Arabic. Thousands of Syrians live in the area. “It is a great opportunity for businesses like mine,” the Turkish owner whispers.