Economic migrants 'not welcome in EU'

Refugees and migrants resting inside a warehouse used as a temporary shelter at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, on Wednesday.
Refugees and migrants resting inside a warehouse used as a temporary shelter at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, on Wednesday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Bloc's president also slams member states for unilateral action to curb influx

ATHENS • EU president Donald Tusk yesterday issued a stark warning to economic migrants not to come to Europe as he castigated countries for taking unilateral action to tackle the crisis.

On a visit to Greece - on the front line of Europe's worst migration crisis since World War II - Mr Tusk told economic migrants it was pointless to apply for asylum in the European Union.

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

"Do not believe the smugglers. Do not risk your lives and your money. It is all for nothing."

And with thousands stuck on the Greece-Macedonia border after Austria and Balkan states began tightly restricting migrant entries, Mr Tusk lashed out at "unilateral" actions by EU members as "detrimental to the European spirit of solidarity".

The border restrictions have left Greece with a huge bottleneck of migrants as Macedonia lets only a trickle through, with the EU estimating the number stranded in miserable conditions could be as high as 12,000.

Mr Tsipras said he would like to see sanctions imposed on EU states that undermine joint decisions by the 28-member bloc.

"Greece will demand... that there be sanctions to those who do not respect (European solidarity treaties)," he told a press conference with Mr Tusk.

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

Mr Tusk was heading to Ankara for talks later yesterday with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who he would press for more "intensive" help in reducing the flow of migrants landing on Greek beaches.

The diplomatic blitz comes after the EU unveiled a €700 million (S$1 billion) emergency aid plan on Wednesday to help Greece and other countries deal with Europe's worst migration crisis since World War II. It is the first time the 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 on the Greek-Macedonia border, where aid agencies have reported a lack of food and tents and warned that the wintry weather is taking a toll on people's health.

In bleak scenes, refugees have been forced to queue for hours for meagre food rations at the mud-soaked, overpacked Idomeni camp on the border.

With Macedonia tightly restricting passage across the border, only around 500 Syrian and Iraqi refugees have been allowed through since Tuesday, said Greek police.

Austria's Foreign Minister yesterday urged Greece to stop migrants from pursuing their journey to northern Europe, saying Athens should hold new arrivals at registration "hot spots".

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 to help shelter 100,000 refugees.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2016, with the headline 'Economic migrants 'not welcome in EU''. Print Edition | Subscribe