President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday he would keep Turkey’s border open for refugees until the EU had met all his demands, while comparing Greece’s response to the crisis to the Nazis.
“Until all Turkey’s expectations, including free movement, ... updating of the customs union and financial assistance, are tangibly met, we will continue the practice on our borders,” he said in a televised speech.
Turkey’s decision at the end of February to re-open its border for refugees sparked a row with Brussels, as well as harsh exchanges with Greece.
Greece has tear-gassed thousands of migrants trying to break through and been accused of beating and stripping migrants of their belongings if they made it across the border.
“There is no difference between what the Nazis did and those images from the Greek border,” Erdogan said.
Greece has denied using violence and accused Turkey of pushing desperate people into dangerous attempts to enter Europe.
Erdogan said he opened the gates in order to pressure Europe into providing greater assistance with the Syrian conflict, where Turkey has fought to push back a regime offensive on the last rebel stronghold of Idlib.
“With the warming of the weather in the spring, the influx of irregular migrants heading to Europe will not be limited to Greece but spread all over the Mediterranean,” he warned.
But he reiterated that Turkey hopes for a fresh agreement with Brussels ahead of the next EU leaders’ summit on March 26.
Turkey already hosts some four million refugees – most of them Syria – and fears another mass influx as the regime, backed by Russia and Iran, pushes to retake Idlib.
Although Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed a ceasefire for the province last week, previous deals have proved temporary and the Turkish president said Wednesday that minor violations have already been reported.
Turkey agreed to stop migrant departures under a 2016 deal with Brussels, but says it has not received all of the six billion euros promised, nor have several other demands been met, including enhanced trade and visa arrangements.