ANKARA: EU President Donald Tusk on Thursday issued a blunt warning to economic migrants not to come to Europe, and chastised EU countries which have taken unilateral action to tackle the crisis.
On a busy day of diplomacy, Tusk visited Greece and Turkey, the two countries on the frontline of Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II, and acknowledged that the number of people seeking to reach EU territory from Turkey remained “far too high”.
His travels were aimed at building momentum ahead of a critical summit between EU and Turkish leaders on Monday where Brussels hopes to take concrete decisions leading to a lasting reduction in the flow of migrants and refugees fleeing war, poverty and persecution.
After talks in Athens with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Tusk told economic migrants it was pointless to try to reach the European Union.
“I want to appeal to all potential illegal economic migrants wherever you are from: Do not come to Europe,” Tusk said.
“Do not believe the smugglers. Do not risk your lives and your money. It is all for nothing.”
In Ankara later, Tusk sought to encourage Turkey to take further action to sharply cut the numbers of migrants and refugees taking to unseaworthy boats to cross the Aegean to the Greek islands.
“We agree that the refugee flows still remain far too high and that further action is needed,” he said after meeting Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
“It is for Turkey to decide how best to achieve such a reduction,” Tusk added, floating the idea of a “fast and large scale mechanism” to ship back irregular migrants from Greece.
“It would effectively break the business model of smugglers,” he said.According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 120,369 migrants arrived in Greece after crossing the Aegean from Turkey so far this year. At least 321 died en route.
From Greece, the migrants then seek to move through the Balkans towards the richest EU states and above all Germany.
With thousands stuck on the Greece-Macedonian border after Austria and Balkan states began tightly restricting migrant entries, Tusk lashed out in Athens at “unilateral” actions by EU members as “detrimental to the European spirit of solidarity”.
Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2016