By Dasha Afanasieva and Lefteris Karagiannopoulos
EU Council President Donald Tusk told illegal economic migrants on Thursday not to risk their lives or money to make a perilous trip to Europe “for nothing” but said unilateral actions by European Union states to deal with the crisis must stop.
The ultimate aim was to eliminate the illegal sea transit of migrants from Turkey to Greece, Tusk said after meeting Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens, although he said no specific numbers had been agreed with the Turks.
“It’s not about numbers, it’s about the ongoing and permanent process … which means for me, the total reduction and the total elimination of this sad phenomenon,” he told a joint news conference with Davutoglu in Ankara.
Tusk was on a trip through Balkan states and Turkey to try to drum up support for cohesion on how to deal with hundreds of thousands of migrants – a crisis that threatens to tear the bloc apart – before an EU summit on Monday.
Speaking earlier in Greece, which has been a primary gateway of migrants flooding into Europe for more than a year, Tusk said anyone who was not a refugee should stay away.
“I want to appeal to all potential illegal economic migrants wherever you are from: Do not come to Europe. Do not believe the smugglers. Do not risk your lives and your money. It is all for nothing,” Tusk said.
Up to 30,000 refugees and migrants have been stranded in Greece from progressive border closures further up the “Balkan corridor”, the route taken to get into wealthier central and northern Europe.
“At Monday’s summit, Greece will demand that burden sharing be equitable among all countries in the bloc, and sanctions for those that do not,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said after meeting Tusk.
“We ask that unilateral actions stop in Europe,” Tsipras said in a view echoed by Tusk.
Austria and countries along the Balkans migration route have imposed restrictions on their borders, limiting the numbers able to cross. Many of the migrants hope to reach Germany. Macedonian police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of migrants who stormed the border from Greece on Monday.
The European Commission will present on Friday a list of necessary steps to lift emergency border controls that are currently in place inside the Schengen zone and restore the proper functioning of the free-travel area, officials said.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told a lecture in the Hague on Thursday that Austria had been wrong to close its border with another Schengen country.
“That has nothing to do with protection of external borders. Restoring borders between two Schengen countries will destroy the common market,” he said.
EU officials have told Reuters that European governments, and particularly Germany, are looking to Turkey to reduce the number of migrant arrivals in Greece to below 1,000 a day at most as an initial condition for discussing taking some Syrian refugees directly from Turkey.
Ahead of Monday’s meeting of EU and Turkish leaders, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Turkey must ensure the numbers drop towards zero.
“If there were to be a target figure, it would be zero,” one EU official said, noting that 1,000 people a day would mean an unsustainable 350,000 people a year arriving in Greece.
Tsipras said Greece would continue to do whatever it could to ensure no migrant or refugee was left helpless. But he added Greece could not bear the burden by itself.
“We will not allow Greece or any other country to be turned into a warehouse of souls,” Tsipras said. “We are at a crucial moment for the future of Europe.”