ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey’s top human rights activist Tuesday accused authorities of causing a Kurdish migration crisis by using scorched-earth tactics against Kurds in the southeast.
"The state itself is forcing these people to this deadly escape," Human Rights Association chairman Akin Birdal told a news conference. Turkey responded to European calls to stem the flow of migran’s leaving Turkey in flimsy boats for western Europe by pledging tighter controls on its borders and long coastline.
"There are legal changes which have to be made. The visa system should be examined. Also we have to increase physical measures at our border crossings," government minister Sukru Sina Gurel told reporters after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
Turkey is under pressure from the European Union to halt the flood of migran’s–many of them Kurds from Turkey and Iraq–that has arrived on the shores of Italy in the last weeks.
The EU’s External Relations Commissioner Hans van den Broek asked Turkey to step up security on its borders.
"I think it’s necessary that we consult with Turkey to see what–from their side–can be done to stop the completely uncontrolled influx on immigran’s," he told Reuters Television. The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR says that although many of the Kurds might be economic migran’s–some are genuine refugees fleeing conflict in Turkey and a Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq.
Turkish officials blame the migration on economic hardship alone and deny Italian assertions that Turkey’s 10 million Kurds suffer political persecution.
Rights activist Birdal said millions of Kurds inside Turkey had been uprooted in a military campaign in 1994 and 1995 to empty Kurdish villages and thus dry up rebel support.
"More than three million people were forcibly evacuated as a result of burning down more than 3,500 villages," he said. "The pressure on the people who were forced to migrate has not ended."
Turkish officials have often blamed the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for emptying civilian settlemen’s but the then human rights minister acknowledged in 1994 that the security forces had torched some villages.
More than 27,000 people have died in 13 years of clashes between Turkish forces and the Kurds.
Allegations of human rights abuses arising from the conflict are an obstacle in NATO-member Turkey’s faltering attempts to join the European Union.
Turkish Interior Minister Murat Basesgioglu said police had arrested some of the leaders of a smuggling ring offering illegal passage to western Europe to migran’s from the Middle East and Asia.
"These agents charge between $1,000 and $5,000 per head and carry these people to Italy. These people have been taken in by Istanbul police and are being questioned," he told reporters.
Eight men appeared before an Istanbul court on Tuesday on charges of planning to transport migran’s by ship to Italy–Anatolian news agency said.
It said the court decided to try three of the men and handed the files on the other five to the fraud police.
EU countries fear a Kurdish immigrant influx spilling over to them. Bonn is especially alarmed that thousands of Kurds may try to join half a million of their kin already in Germany.
A Turkish Kurd committed suicide Monday by setting himself on fire after Germany authorities rejected his bid for asylum.
Turkish border police have arrested 57 migran’s trying to cross illegally into Greece so far this year–the governor’s office in the border province of Edirne said.
It said 52 Iraqis–four Azeris and one Georgian had been captured.