Faced with an unprecedented wave of migration, Turkey’s Border Authorities are completing border management projects to increase surveillance and response capacity at its land borders.
As is known to all, Türkiye is located at the point where the continents of Africa, Europe and Asia come closest to each other. As a natural consequence of this, Türkiye is a transit route for international trade, an excellent tourism destination for almost every tourism enthusiast, and a hub for intercontinental travelers. All these attributes and characteristics sound perfect, but in order to understand any subject or concept in depth, the opposite and negative benefits of each good attribute and feature should not be overlooked. That being, the large number of entry-exit points make Türkiye the perfect place for ill-intentioned people to disguise human trafficking among the legitimate tourist and trade traffic and of course because it is the shortest route. And of course, most visibly, people who want a better life, fleeing brutality and chronic poverty choose Türkiye as fastest route to reach EU countries.
In addition to these problems, the unstable countries neighboring Türkiye and the civil wars taking place in these countries complicate everything in terms of the threat of foreign terrorist fighters. For all these negative and positive characteristics, Turkish Borders are complex, dynamic and difficult to manage. In the following parts of this article, the transition process from a human-based security approach to a technology-oriented border security and capacity building activities in ensuring the security of land borders will be discussed.
All professionals working in the border management sector know that the most important issue is accessing data and checking documents properly. Almost all of the Border Management approaches, training modules for border guards and equipment in use is shaped on this premise. This premise is a familiar, natural and understandable for both travelers and border guards. However, it does not work like that every time. Let’s imagine a situation; millions of people who do not have any travelling documents or even ID, claiming to be at risk of being treated with inhumanely, try to cross your land borders, which are nearly 3000 kilometers of often challenging topographic conditions. It is hard to imagine, isn’t it? That is what exactly happened in the case of Türkiye. Firstly, millions of people came to Türkiye after Syrian Civil War and then a second wave tried reach to Turkish borders after that with the end of Resolute Supporting Mission in Afghanistan. Nowadays, Türkiye continues to host the largest number of refugees worldwide.
New Strategy & Investments
The pressure of migration waves of undocumented (literally) people made Turkish Border Authorities to rethink their strategy. In the lead, the Ministry of Interior Turkish Border Authorities saw that all the conventional strategies like increasing the count of patrols, increasing the number of staff etc., are ineffective against that huge issue. In order to decrease illegal border crossing attempts, to protect people from organized crime groups and terrorist organizations and to direct the migrants to legal and safer ways to seek asylum Türkiye has increased its investments in border management and security.
The investments in the light of new strategy encompasses four components: infrastructure, physical border obstacle systems, technological border surveillance systems and border lightening systems. This might seem fairly straightforward but as it mentioned before Türkiye has nearly 3.000 kilometers land border, with difficult climatic conditions especially at Iran border, and an average altitude of 2500 meters. Political relations with neighboring states also make every single effort harder.
With that in mind we can start with infrastructure. Turkish border cities, especially cities at Iranian border are far away from border line. There is no residential area nearby, due to climate and altitude, agricultural activities are not rich, and the road network is not good. Historically, these areas did not need an improved infrastructure. But after the migration waves from the eastern border of Türkiye, these areas emerged as one of the busiest migration route. There was a need for energy transmission lines that would provide the necessary power to high-tech border surveillance systems, and patrolling roads that would allow immediate intervention to border units.
Secondly, physical border obstacle systems, the general name of systems such as modular concrete walls, wire fences, trenches, vary according to the topographic structure of the region and the demands of the border units. Although it is a clear that it is impossible to prevent immigrants who have crossed thousands of kilometers with 4-meter concrete walls, physical barrier systems create a deterrent impression, prevent mass illegal border crossings, make large-scale smuggling difficult, and most importantly, create extra time for border units to intervene. Another beautiful aspect of the border physical security systems is that Türkiye, which is a party to the Ottawa treaty, serves the goal of getting rid of antipersonnel and antitank mines. The routes chosen for the construction of the border physical security systems ensure that the minefields in the region are carefully cleared. Thus, while contributing to border security, an outdated border security method is also avoided.
Thirdly, and the costliest, is technological border surveillance systems. Thanks to improvement in Turkish Defense Industry, Turkish land borders are watched by hi-tech thermal cameras, electro-optical systems and sensors. Most of these technological border surveillance systems are procured within the scope of EU funded projects and they are playing a critical role in providing safer borders. One of the largest European Union projects on the installation of high-tech border surveillance systems includes the supply of electro-optical masts on Türkiye’s eastern and western borders. When the all the systems are operational, 1090 kilometers of Turkish green borders will be able to watched through hi-tech masts which has thermal cameras, gunshot detection systems, land surveillance radars and wireless sensors. Another EU funded project which aims at procuring thermal cameras is finalized at Syria border of Türkiye. These thermal cameras, which can detect objects from 16,000 meters and people from 10,000 meters, and have the ability to rotate 360 degrees, make the work of border units much easier.
Last but not the least, border lighting systems are so important when the issue is uninterrupted surveillance. It is clear that, all the illegal actions are prone to be committed at night time. To make border units aware 7/24 lighting plays a crucial role. Türkiye aims to install lighting systems on all its borders that it deems at risk.
To sum up, in order to provide border security at land borders Türkiye has a four-step strategy. The first step is the establishment of the necessary infrastructure, followed by physical barrier systems as a deterrent, then the installation of lighting and high-tech surveillance systems for uninterrupted surveillance is completed. Thus, land borders are strengthened with physical and technological obstacle systems that allow immediate intervention to border units.
In conclusion, Türkiye faced an unprecedented wave of migration. Hardly any of the conventional methods of border management offered prescriptions applicable to this situation. The magnitude of the crisis was quickly grasped and the volatility of the situation adjusted. Instead of seeking temporary solutions, permanent projects that require great effort and investment were started. Although there is still a lot of work to be done, Türkiye has succeeded in fortifying many of its most risky borders with complex border security systems.
All of these efforts can be followed in EU’s Türkiye Report 2022 as “Türkiye continued to invest significant efforts and financial means in modernising border security at the land border in the east of the country. After the construction of a wall and a barbedwire fence along the Syrian border financed by the national budget, the installation of modern communication and surveillance masts, which continued at the Iranian border and was partially funded by the EU. Communication and surveillance masts have been erected also at the western land border.”
The Turkish border authorities are determined to respond with the same dynamism to the dynamic and variable nature of irregular migration and cross-border crimes in line with the humanitarian policy pursued from the beginning of the process. It is aimed that the border security measures completed in the riskiest sections will be completed at all borders within 5 years through projects financed with funds from the national budget and the European Union.
By Hüseyin HANCIOĞLU, EU EXPERT & Oğulcan BÜYÜKAKÇALI, EU EXPERT of the MINISTRY OF INTERIOR OF THE REPUBLIC OF TÜRKIYE