When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Sources

Along Turkey's Border, Smugglers Supply Syrian Refugees And Rebels

Up close with Syrian smugglers and Western NGOs. Turkish troops turn blind eye to arms trafficking, but worries grow about who is getting their hands on the weapons.

A Syrian refugee center on the Turkish border
A Syrian refugee center on the Turkish border
Boris Mabillard

ANTAKYA - Sitting at the back of the restaurant, they try to be discrete. But their gear and clothes give them away: they are foreigners, anyone can tell.

In the Turkish city of Antakya, situated some 20 kilometers from the Syrian border, the relief workers try to avoid the attention of the Turkish authorities, and the local media. Despite the fact that Ankara is supporting the Syrian rebellion and hosting many of its refugees, the government has still not given its official approval to cross-border humanitarian operations. Still, border guards continue to turn a blind eye to it.

This is just the kind of ambiguos environment that is ideal for smugglers and traffickers trading their services to aid groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Ihab, Ahmed and Souleiman are making the most of the situation. This trio in their 20s come from the Syrian port city of Latakia, working together as a small smuggling outfit. “We had each joined the resistance separately,” says Ihab, who heads the three-man team. “After an argument, I left the FSA (Free Syrian Army). Two friends of mine did the same, as we didn’t like their attitude. We decided to help our people in another way, which means providing them with the things they need: food, flour, medicines, oil, weapons and munitions.” The trio mostly works for small associations, local NGOs and private individuals.

Grey zones

Wrapped in a blanket, Ihab moves closer to the fire. It’s a cold evening of January in Atmeh, the first village across the border into Syria, amidst makeshift tents installed in the middle of the mud. In these parts, it is possible to find small shops offering smuggled goods. Ihab is searching for a shipment of cigarettes: despite the war they are still cheaper in Syria. Once the deal is negotiated, the difficulty is to move the tobacco to the other side of the border. Traffic goes in both directions, depending on the type of merchandise.

Armored vehicles and pick-ups jam the streets that lead to the border. “There are a dozen of more or less official checkpoints: when we have to bring medicines, we can pass close to the soldiers, but if we have weapons, we cross a little bit further, across the fields,” explains Ihab.

A logistics coordinator of a French NGO, who prefers to remain anonymous, tells us: "We operate in a grey area without official permission," he explains. "Even though the Turkish authorities are rather conciliatory toward us, they were not with other smaller organizations that were less discrete. Our situation is precarious."

It is even more complicated on the Syrian side, in the areas controlled by the rebels, because the lack of official representatives has produced chaos. "Clandestine networks control the border. Moreover, more or less coordinated armed groups impose their own law. Some of them want to make their profit from our activities or use them to promote a particular faction or community."

The war has created many opportunities for those with less than pure intentions. But Ihab refuses to be considered as someone exploiting misery: “We take just a small percentage of the price, in order to cover for our services. Other people act unscrupulously and make a fortune with the money they ask from the NGOs."

In addition to humanitarian aid, the main traffic circulating is with weapons. Ihab knows that this couldn’t be possible without the consent and the complicity of the corrupt Turkish soldiers: "They have their men everywhere and know exactly which goods are in transit. Arms shipments were delivered to the armed groups without being stopped at the border."

While the international community aims to help the civilians wherever they are in Syria, including in the areas where Bashar al-Assad forces have lost control, the border transactions are expected to finally grow. Turkey could bring order in the chaos on its side of the border, in order to facilitate the transit of medical aid. But in doing so it could see its alliances exposed: for the Turks are not only openly assisting the Free Syrian Army, but also -- and more secretly -- helping other armed Islamist groups from the Salafist movement.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

New Probe Finds Pro-Bolsonaro Fake News Dominated Social Media Through Campaign

Ahead of Brazil's national elections Sunday, the most interacted-with posts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and WhatsApp contradict trustworthy information about the public’s voting intentions.

Jair Bolsonaro bogus claims perform well online

Cris Faga/ZUMA
Laura Scofield and Matheus Santino

SÂO PAULO — If you only got your news from social media, you might be mistaken for thinking that Jair Bolsonaro is leading the polls for Brazil’s upcoming presidential elections, which will take place this Sunday. Such a view flies in the face of what most of the polling institutes registered with the Superior Electoral Court indicate.

An exclusive investigation by the Brazilian investigative journalism agency Agência Pública has revealed how the most interacted-with and shared posts in Brazil on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and WhatsApp share data and polls that suggest victory is certain for the incumbent Bolsonaro, as well as propagating conspiracy theories based on false allegations that research institutes carrying out polling have been bribed by Bolsonaro’s main rival, former president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, or by his party, the Workers’ Party.

Agência Pública’s reporters analyzed the most-shared posts containing the phrase “pesquisa eleitoral” [electoral polls] in the period between the official start of the campaigning period, on August 16, to September 6. The analysis revealed that the most interacted-with and shared posts on social media spread false information or predicted victory for Jair Bolsonaro.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ