Tension between Athens and Ankara has been reignited as Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has likened Greece’s treatment of refugees and migrants at its borders to Nazi atrocities.
Erdoğan said abuses against the refugees who are stuck at the two nations’ border were comparable to tactics employed by Hitler’s troops during World War II.
“There is no difference with what the Nazis did and the images from the border,” he told his AKP parliamentary group, repeating unproven claims that Greek forces had killed at least four people and wounded around 1,000.
“To open fire, fire teargas and use boiling water on innocent people whose only aim is to save their lives and build a better future for their children is barbaric in the true meaning of the word.”
The Turkish leader, who has been widely accused of weaponising the migration issue in pursuit of domestic political aims, said Ankara would maintain its open border policy despite international condemnation.
“We will continue the current measure on our frontiers until all of our expectations are concretely met,” he said.
An estimated 10,000 refugees and migrants have gathered in the Evros frontier region since Erdoğan unexpectedly announced Turkey would “open the doors” to Europe.
Erdoğan has complained that the EU has failed to keep to promises made when it struck a deal with Ankara to curb migratory flows at the height of the refugee crisis. Turkey maintains that it has received only half the €6bn forecast in the 2016 accord.
Greek forces have used teargas and water cannon to try to prevent people from breaching the border. Athens says it has thwarted more than 42,000 illegal entries into Greek and EU territory over the past two weeks and has resolutely rejected claims of mistreatment.
Turkey, which dispatched 1,000 heavily armed special police to the frontier last week, has faced charges of ordering teargas to be fired at Greek guards and migrants.
The tensions come against a backdrop of deepening hostility between the two neighbours and Nato allies. In echoes of confrontations that have pushed them to the brink of war five times since 1967, Greece and Turkey have sparred increasingly over offshore energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean as well as over refugees.
Greek government officials say Erdoğan’s deployment of elite forces to Evros further escalated what has become an extremely worrying situation. The unprecedented sight of Turkish fighter jets flying over the region late Wednesday prompted speculation that the strongman leader was actively spoiling for a fight with Athens.
Although friction along the land frontier has eased in recent days, there was a flare-up in the Aegean Sea on Wednesday when a Turkish patrol boat rammed a Greek coastguard vessel close to the island of Kos.
The collision caused minor damage and no injuries. Athens’ foreign ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador in protest.
Erdoğan, who delighted in showing his MPs footage of a similar incident last week, vowed on Wednesday that Turkish naval patrols would go on harassing Greek patrol vessels at sea. (Source: The Guardian)