EU’s Tusk Begs Migrants: ‘Please Do Not Come to Europe’

donald tusk
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images

EU President Donald Tusk on Thursday warned economic migrants not to come to Europe as he held talks in Greece and Turkey, nations on the frontline of the refugee crisis.

“I want to appeal to all potential illegal economic migrants wherever you are from: Do not come to Europe. Do not believe the smugglers,” Tusk told a press conference in Athens after talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

“Do not risk your lives and your money. It is all for nothing.”

Tusk was in Athens as part of a regional tour on the migration crisis ahead of a Monday summit between the EU and Turkey, the gateway for hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants hoping to start new lives in Europe.

Tusk will head to Turkey later on Thursday to meet Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, pressing Ankara to offer more “intensive” help in reducing the flow of migrants landing on Greek beaches.

The warning to economic migrants came after the EU unveiled a 700-million-euro ($761-million) emergency aid plan to help Greece and other countries deal with Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II.

It is the first time the 28-member bloc has responded to a situation within its borders in the same way as it treats humanitarian disasters in developing countries.

The United Nations has warned of a looming humanitarian crisis as thousands of people remain stuck in miserable winter conditions on the Greece-Macedonia border after Balkans states and Austria capped entries.

Tusk lashed out at the border controls on Thursday, blasting them as “unilateral decisions” that are “detrimental to the European spirit of solidarity”.

With Macedonia tightly restricting passage through its border with Greece, only around 500 Syrian and Iraqi refugees have been allowed to cross since Tuesday, Greek police said.

Police say it is impossible to accurately track the numbers arriving on the frontier as refugees are travelling there independently, but the EU estimates that more than 12,000 may currently be stuck at the Idomeni crossing.

Austria’s foreign minister on Thursday urged Greece to stop migrants from pursuing their journey to northern Europe, saying Athens should hold new arrivals at registration “hotspots”.

“Those who manage to arrive in Greece should not be allowed to continue on their journey,” Sebastian Kurz told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

Greece has been the main point of entry for the 1.13 million migrants who have arrived in the EU over the past 14 months, and has asked for around 480 million euros ($520 million) to help shelter 100,000 refugees.

– Macedonia border misery –

Turkey meanwhile said next week’s summit in Brussels should not just focus on the migrant crisis, saying it should also tackle Ankara’s relations with the bloc.

At Idomeni, bleak scenes played out Wednesday with refugees in mud-soaked fields queueing for hours for a sandwich, as aid agencies reported a lack of food and tents and warned that the wintry weather was taking a toll on people’s health.

The EU aid package, which must be approved by member states and the European Parliament, was unveiled just days after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that debt-hit Greece must not be allowed to plunge into refugee “chaos” as the bottleneck on the Macedonian border grows.

The crisis has raised fears for the EU’s Schengen passport-free zone as more states bring back border controls, although Tusk insisted on Thursday: “The Schengen rules will enter into force again.”

The EU chief had on Wednesday defended the use of barbed-wire fences, saying that securing Schengen outer borders was a “pre-condition” to solving the refugee crisis.

– Funding boost for Calais –

“I’m afraid that sometimes you need tougher measures if… we want really to apply Schengen. Sorry, but this is the reality,” Tusk said in Slovenia.

In the French port of Calais, demolition workers continued pulling down makeshift shelters in the so-called Jungle migrant camp for a fourth day. The camp is a magnet for people hoping to reach Britain and many have refused to leave, although there has been no repeat of the violent clashes that erupted on Monday.

French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron were to hold talks in France on Thursday, with the Calais situation topping the agenda.

Ahead of the talks, French state secretary for European Affairs Harlem Desir announced that Britain would provide an extra 20 million euros in funding to boost security at Calais.