Shady life vests that soak up water were being sold to refugees

Syrian and Iraqi refugees arrive on a raft in Greece on Jan. 1, 2016.
Syrian and Iraqi refugees arrive on a raft in Greece on Jan. 1, 2016.
Image: Reuters/Giorgos Moutafis
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More than 1,200 fake life jackets, made of a material that gets heavier when wet and causes the wearer to sink, were seized by authorities in a refugee and migrant hub in Turkey this week.

The faulty life jackets were discovered in a raid on a workshop in the port city of Izmir, local Turkish newspaper Hurriyet said. The workshop’s employees reportedly included two Syrian girls, whose names and ages were not published.

Migrants often buy life jackets for protection on the harrowing cross-Mediterranean journey from Turkey to Greece. Though a properly made life jacket typically costs around €130 ($140), many people opt to buy cheaper ones in the €15 range, which tend to be badly made and unlikely to offer any actual protection.

“[The fake] life jackets are made of backpack material and filled with sponge, and because sponge is hydrophillic [water-absorbing], it drags people down and causes them to drown,” Turkish life vest producer Sait Guderoglu told Hurriyet. Wearing the fake jackets may be more dangerous than wearing no jacket at all, he added.

It’s unknown how many defective life jackets from the raided Izmir workshop—or from other jacket-making operations, for that matter—have been sold to migrants in total. (Hurriyet reports that police collected 300 substandard vests from Syrian migrants who had already bought them.) But the danger of such advantageous scams deepens as the flood of desperate migrants from the Middle East trying to reach western Europe continues.

According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 3,770 people died trying to reach Europe in 2015. Just this week, the bodies of more than 30 migrants washed up on Turkish land, after their boat reportedly capsized in bad weather as they attempted to make their way to the Greek island of Lesbos.