EU President Donald Tusk on Thursday issued a stark warning to economic migrants not to come to Europe, as he castigated countries for taking unilateral action to tackle the crisis. 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.
With discussion on Monday also expected to focus on the Schengen free-travel area, the European Commission yesterday gave EU member states an end-of-year deadline to phase out border checks introduced in the wake of the refugee crisis.
Countries including Austria, Macedonia and Serbia have imposed border restrictions which have led to bottlenecks of migrants in Greece, prompting Avramopoulos to warn of a looming large-scale humanitarian crisis along the migration route through the Balkans.
Meanwhile, there are already over 5,000 refugees and migrants waiting to cross to the Greek mainland from the Aegean islands facing Turkey, Greece’s state agency ANA reported Sunday.
Athens is building additional facilities to house the refugees and migrants, but many prefer to go to the border in the hope of eventually getting through, and are stuck there for days and weeks. Later Thursday, he will travel to Turkey, from where most migrants enter Europe on risky smugglers’ boats. “In addition, we will present plans on how asylum standards in Europe can be further harmonized”, he said.
Allowing migrants to be stranded in Greece is considered the EU’s last option to halt the relentless inflow of people from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.
Rutte was speaking ahead of an EU-Turkey summit on Monday when the 28-nation bloc will push for the implementation of a deal under which Ankara is due to cut the arrivals and help alleviate what turned into a major migration crisis for the EU.
European Correspondent for The Irish Examiner, Ann Cahill, has said the EU’s Schengen passport-free system has collapsed: “Whatever country a migrant comes into first, is where they are supposed to be identified, fingerprinted and decision taken if they have made an appeal for asylum”.
Thousands of refugees and migrants are continuing to arrive on the Greek islands every day after setting off from the Turkish coast.
He said Europe was ready to grant “substantial financial support” to countries neighbouring war-torn regions such as Syria and Iraq.
Official EU statistics show a record 1.2 million new asylum seekers in the European Union in 2015, more than double the previous year.
Under a deal signed last November, Turkey agreed to help curb the flow of refugees in return for EU’s provision of 3 billion euros (3.2 billion US dollars) in aid and agreement to expedite its European Union membership process. The summit will discuss progress on protecting the EU’s external borders and helping Greece to cope with the influx of migrants, who mostly arrive by sea from Turkey.