UPDATE – Over 650 irregular migrants held across Turkey

              <p>UPDATES WITH MORE MIGRANTS HELD</p>    <p>By Mesut Varol, Necat Hazar and Seracettin Seckin</p>  <p> </p>  <p>VAN, Turkey (AA) - Turkey on Monday held at least 655 irregular migrants in nationwide operations, according to security sources.</p>    <p>In the eastern Van province alone, a total of 168 irregular migrants were held in three different operations.</p>    <p>Sixty-nine irregular migrants, including 47 Afghans, 19 Pakistanis, two Bangladeshis and a Syrian national were held during gendarmerie forces patrolling in Baskale district of Van, according to the local Gendarmerie Command.</p>    <p>Another 60 irregular migrants, including 42 Afghan and 18 Pakistani nationals, were rounded up in Gulpinar district from a parked truck on Hakkari-Van highway, according to provincial security directorate.</p>    <p>Also in Muradiye district of Van, 39 Afghan nationals were held on Van-Ercis highway when security forces stopped and checked a suspicious vehicle, said a security source, who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.</p>    <p>The irregular migrants, who were affected by bitter cold, were given blankets and food by the gendarmerie forces, the source added.</p>    <p>Driver of the vehicle, identified by the initials C. E., was also arrested.</p>    <p>In the northwestern Yalova province, 109 Afghan nationals were held during simultaneous operations in 11 different localities, according to another security source.</p>    <p>Two suspects among the irregular migrants are said to be migrant smugglers and legal procedures for them are ongoing in a local police station.</p>    <p>In Altinozu district of the southern Hatay province, 38 Syrians, who illegally entered Turkey, were also held by border guards.</p>    <p>They were referred to the local gendarmerie command.</p>    <p>Separately in northwestern province Edirne, 340 migrants -- including Algerian, Moroccan, Syrian, Iraqi, Indian and Nepalese nationals -- were caught while trying to cross the border through illegal means.</p>    <p>All of the irregular migrants were referred to provincial migration offices.</p>    <p>Turkey has been a main route for irregular migrants trying to cross to Europe, especially since 2011, the start of the Syrian civil war.</p>    <p>Over 265,000 irregular migrants were held in Turkey in 2018, according to the country’s Interior Ministry.</p>  <p>  <p>*Yavuz Emrah Sever from Yalova, Erdal Turkoglu from Hatay and Cihan Demirci from Edirne contributed to this story.</p>