In Basmane, a neighborhood of smugglers and migrants in the heart of Izmir, il manifesto interviewed a key figure in the human trafficking operations between Turkey and the Greek islands. Abu Muhammad, around 50 years old, appears unremarkable save for the old scar on the right side of his face, between his eye and ear. He has manicured nails and wears a stylish blue worsted suit and a white shirt, open at the neck. He claims to have come from Mardin, in the south of the country.
A young Kurdish man, who fled to Izmir from violence in southeastern Turkey, set up the interview. “You have 20 minutes,” he said, pointing to a subcompact car parked in view of the Basmane train station.
Muhammad welcomed me inside with a handshake. He looks like a low-level trafficker, but that’s not so. He’s the boss of one of four organizations involved in smuggling migrants from Izmir, this port city on Turkey’s Aegean coast, to the Greek islands. These groups don’t cooperate with each other, but they don’t battle either — there’s enough demand that everyone profits.