Rapid expansion of Turkish national carrier is in part behind surge in African migrants through the Western Balkans, EU agency says
By Matthew Holehouse, in Brussels
The European Union’s borders agency has suggested one of the world’s biggest airlines is fuelling the illegal migration crisis by opening new routes in Africa.
Frontex said a dramatic increase in migrants from Africa illegally crossing the borders of the Western Balkans in order to reach the EU “could be partly explained” by the commercial strategy of Turkish Airlines.
The flag carrier, which serves more destinations than any airline in the world, has a fleet of 296 and revenues of £5 billion last year, has opened a raft of new routes to Africa – a move interpreted as a drive by President Erdogan to increase Turkish influence.
While the world’s attention has been on illegal smuggling gangs, the allegation suggests that major corporations – acting entirely legally – also play a major and poorly-understood role in the mass migration affecting the continent.
Turkey is a major route for would-be migrants, travelling by land from Syria and Afghanistan onwards by land or sea to Greece, the Balkans and central Europe.
Frontex noted there had been a threefold increase in Africans detected making illegal border crossings in the Western Balkans in the three months June to compared to the previous quarter..
They included a nine-fold increase in Congolese, a six-fold rise in Cameroonians, and a four-fold rise in Ghanaians.
In total it detected some 4,071 Africans out of 54 437 illegal border crossings.
The report goes on: “The increase in detected Africans in the Western Balkans could be partly explained by the expansion of Turkish Airlines connection network in Africa.”
It notes how the carrier now has the largest network in Africa, nearly doubling its weekly seat capacity from 38,000 to 70,000, and planning to open six new destinations.
“It already boasts the largest network in the continent among foreign carriers, overtaking Air France and Emirates. By the end of 2015, Turkish Airlines will have at least 45 destinations in its African network across 30 countries. For comparison, Air France, which has the second largest African network among European carriers, offers flights to 34 destinations. Brussels Airlines has 19 African destinations on offer, British Airways 18 and Lufthansa 13.”
The problem is down to Turkey’s policy of “visa diplomacy”, under which its Islamist government has sought influence across Africa and the Middle East, by easing visa restrictions. Citizens of countries such as Somalia, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Sudan can all get “e-visas”, which require only a form to be filled in and a fee to be paid online.
A Telegraph reporter pretending to be from Afghanistan was able to buy such a visa in less than five minutes, using the name John Smith: