Turkey’s Erdoğan demands free movement, updated customs union to close EU border

(Releads with Erdoğan’s demands to the EU)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday said he planned to keep the border open for migrants heading to Europe until the European Union meets all of Turkey’s demands on free movement, an updated customs union and financial assistance for migrants and asylum seekers hosted by Turkey.

"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," the Turkish president said during a speech to his parliamentary party on Wednesday. 

And, as tensions continue to simmer over the mounting crisis on the Greek-Turkish border, Erdoğan likened the Greek authorities’ treatment of migrants trying to cross the border from Turkey to the German Nazi Party’s crimes against humanity, Turkish daily Hürriyet reported.  

The president alluded to footage that was reportedly shot on the Greek border after Turkish authorities began allowing migrants free passage toward Europe late last month. Some of the footage showed a young man said to have been fatally shot by Greek security forces.

“There’s no difference between the images coming from the Greek border and what the Nazis did,” Erdoğan said. “You’ve seen what they’ve done before in the Nazis’ camps.”

The Nazis murdered some 6 million Jews and millions of dissidents, disabled people, members of ethnic and religious minorities and prisoners of war in concentration camps during World War Two.

Erdoğan has a history of comparing European leaders, likening German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler during a previous spat when European countries blocked the Turkish president’s ruling party from holding electoral rallies for Turkish voters abroad.

This time, the Turkish strongman said the Greeks were acting like “legionnaires” for the West by brutalising migrants attempting to enter Europe.

The latest crisis on Greece’s border was encouraged by Erdoğan, who had repeatedly threatened to “open the gates” and allow some of the roughly 4 million migrants hosted in Turkey to move westward en masse.

The Turkish president has frequently criticised the European Union for not keeping its side of a deal struck in 2016 to curb migration. Turkish officials say they have not received the 6 billion euros promised in that deal in full. Europe is also yet to provide visa-free travel for Turks, another stipulation of the deal, and Erdoğan wishes to tie this and Turkey’s broader relations with the EU into an updated migrant deal before the European Council summit on March 26.

When an attack by the Syrian government killed 34 Turkish troops on Feb. 27 in Idlib, northwest Syria, and threatened to drive as many as 1 million new migrants from that province into Turkey, Turkish authorities made good on its threat to open the border, leading to tense confrontations between Greek security forces and crowds of migrants in the buffer zone dividing the countries.

Erdoğan said that four people had been killed on the border by Greek police, whom he accused of “barbarism”, saying they had shot live rounds and tear gas at the crowds of migrants and even thrown boiling water at them.

“We know about Greek atrocities from history. Those with us now are doing the same things,” Erdoğan said.

The Turkish president said Greek police had stripped, robbed and beaten migrants caught crossing the border before sending them back to Turkey. Similar incidents were reported in Turkish newspapers last week.

Erdoğan said he had brought on an iPad evidence of crimes during these confrontations to a meeting with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to discuss migration on Monday.

But he said the European officials had not allowed him to bring the electronic device into the meeting.