ISTANBUL: The EU’s Donald Tusk was due to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for key talks on the migrant crisis Friday, after saying the number of people trying to enter the bloc via Turkey remained “far too high”.
The Istanbul meeting is the last stage in a regional tour for the EU president, also taking in Greece and Slovenia, ahead of a Turkey-EU summit in Brussels next week where the continuing flow of migrants will top the agenda.
Tusk has pulled no punches on during the trip, earlier issuing a blunt warning to economic migrants not to come to Europe, and chastising European countries that have taken unilateral steps to tackle the crisis.
After talks in Athens with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Thursday, Tusk told economic migrants it was pointless to try to reach the European Union, which is struggling maintain its prized Schengen passport-free travel area in the face of the surge of people moving across the bloc’s borders.
On a busy day of diplomacy, Tusk then traveled to Ankara, where he said he wanted to reduce the number of people coming into the EU from Turkey.
“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.”
He sought to encourage Turkey to take further action to sharply cut the numbers of people taking to unseaworthy boats to reach Greece — the second country on the frontline of Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II.
“It is for Turkey to decide how best to achieve such a reduction,” Tusk said after meeting Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, 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.”
‘Detrimental to European spirit’
On Friday the EU also plans to unveil a “roadmap” to restore the Schengen zone — a keystone to the spirit of European unity.
The crisis has raised fears for the zone as more states bring back border controls, with both Sweden and Denmark announcing another temporary extension of border identification checks on Thursday.
But sources in Brussels said the EU’s “roadmap” on Friday would outline a plan to restore the Schengen zone to full force by November.
The plan, a draft of which has been seen by AFP, includes quickly creating an EU coastguard system and strengthening Greece’s external borders.
At the Greek-Macedonian border, migrants from countries like Egypt and Pakistan — and therefore not classed as refugees — remained undeterred, despite the many hurdles.
“I know the border is closed but I want to go to Germany, I will try, try, try,” said Mohamed, an Egyptian who plans to pay smugglers to sneak into Macedonia through the hills.
“Egypt is bad, there is no work.”
According to the International Organization for Migration, 120,369 migrants arrived in Greece from Turkey so far this year. At least 321 died en route.
With thousands stuck on the Greek-Macedonian border after Austria and Balkan states began tightly restricting migrant entries, Tusk lashed out in Athens at the “unilateral” moves made by EU members, slamming them as “detrimental to the European spirit of solidarity”.
Tsipras said he would like to see sanctions imposed on EU states that undermine joint decisions by the 28-member bloc.
His Deputy Defense Minister Dimitris Vitsas said there were now nearly 32,000 migrants on the Greek islands and the mainland, and a senior UN migration official said the number could surge to 70,000 in the coming weeks.
On Wednesday, the EU unveiled a 700-million-euro ($760-million) emergency aid plan to help Greece and other member countries, the first time humanitarian aid has been used within Europe.
Some 1.13 million migrants have arrived in the EU over the past 14 months.