Turkish Interior Ministry broadens investigation into reports of human trafficking by municipalities

The Turkish Interior Ministry has widened its investigation into an alleged human trafficking scheme to include six more municipalities over reports that they smuggled people abroad. The municipalities are accused of providing people with service passports under the pretext that they would participate in folk dancing performances, cultural tours or youth programs.

People look at flight status information at Istanbul Airport in this file photo.

Duvar English

The Interior Ministry has broadened its investigation into reports that several municipalities acquired service (“gray”) passports for citizens to help them travel to Europe and stay there.

Service passports allow visa-free travel and are reserved for public servants or for others traveling on official business.

In a written statement released on April 19, the ministry said that six more municipalities are under investigation in connection with the alleged human trafficking scheme.

The ministry named the six municipalities as follows: Gömeç in northwest Balıkesir province, Gölbaşı in southeastern Adıyaman province, Yeşilova in Mediterranean Burdur province, Yerköy in Central Anatolian Yozgat province, Suruç in southeastern Şanlıurfa province and Korgan in northern Ordu province.

These municipalities have been determined to “send people abroad by organizing cooperation protocols with NGOs under the name of 'dance (folklore) performance,' 'cultural tour' and 'youth program,'” the ministry said.

The ministry also said that the government has stopped providing service passports to people who are not public servants. 

Last week, it came to surface that 43 of 45 people who went to Germany for a 2020 workshop, never came back to Turkey. The participants of the trip were sent by the Yeşilyurt municipality of the eastern Malatya province, run by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The incident became public after the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) submitted a motion with regards to the incident.

As Turkish authorities have launched an investigation into the incident, reports suggested that the case was not limited to the Yeşilyurt municipality.

The Interior Ministry later said that four people had been dismissed from their posts as part of the investigation, including the deputy governor of Malatya.

AKP spokesperson Ömer Çelik commented on the scandal on April 19, saying among the recently investigated municipalities are also those run by the CHP and İYİ (Good) Party.

“A couple of CHP lawmakers said, 'AKP municipalities are doing this.' And today we have seen that the CHP and İYİ Party municipalities are also involved in it. And then a CHP spokesperson comes up and accuses our Interior Minister,” Çelik told reporters in the capital Ankara, after a meeting of the party's Central Executive Board.

"Eventually, such a picture came out out of the municipalities. Our ministry will investigate the incident and expose everything. We also want this to happen," he said.