ATHENS — European Union (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.
On a visit to Greece — on the frontline of Europe’s worst migration crisis since the Second World War — Mr Tusk told economic migrants it was pointless to apply for asylum in the EU.
"I want to appeal to all potential illegal economic migrants wherever you are from: Do not come to Europe," Mr Tusk 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 on Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who he will press for more "intensive" help in reducing the flow of migrants landing on Greek beaches.
The diplomatic blitz comes after the EU unveiled a €700m emergency aid plan on Wednesday to help Greece and other countries deal with Europe’s severe migration crisis.
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 was 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 about 500 Syrian and Iraqi refugees have been allowed through since Tuesday, according to Greek police.
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 about €480m to help shelter 100,000 refugees.
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 "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 Mr Tusk insisted on Thursday: "The Schengen rules will enter into force again." 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 for other accommodation, 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 €20m in funding to boost security at Calais.