Europe puts up 'house full' signs

By Karla Adam, James McAuley

As crisis worsens and nations tighten borders, leaders tell refugees to stay away, write James McAuley and Karla Adam.
Up to 70,000 refugees like these face being trapped in Greece as Macedonia and other European countries shut their borders.Picture / AP
Up to 70,000 refugees like these face being trapped in Greece as Macedonia and other European countries shut their borders.Picture / AP

A senior EU official has told those seeking to flee poverty and unrest that Europe is no longer the answer, with nearly one million refugees and migrants having poured into Europe in the past year.

"Do not come to Europe," said Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, after meeting the Greek Prime Minister in Athens. "Do not believe the smugglers. Do not risk your lives and your money. It is all for nothing."

Tusk's comments yesterday came as a top United Nations official also warned that as many as 70,000 people could be "trapped" in Greece in the coming weeks because Macedonia and other European countries are shutting their borders, transforming Greece into a holding pen for migrants desperate to leave.

Tusk also said it was up to Turkey, not its European neighbours, to decide how to manage a reduction in refugee numbers - a stance that Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu quickly rebuffed. Turkey is under pressure to reduce the number of migrants crossing into Greece as a March 7 summit meeting between Turkey and the European Union approaches to discuss the issue.

In the past week, unrest has broken out among the more than 30,000 refugees and migrants that Greek officials say are stranded at Greece's blocked Macedonian border.

There was also violence at a makeshift camp being dismantled in northern France. And yesterday, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande held talks in Amiens seeking to contain the migrant crisis in northern France, where thousands of refugees are camped in squalid conditions just over two hours from London and Paris.

The talks in Amiens come days after French authorities began demolishing sections of the infamous "Jungle" encampment in Calais, home to 4000 migrants from North Africa and the Middle East, most of whom are seeking to reach Britain.

Turkish officials have long insisted that the West and others must share the financial and humanitarian burdens. And in November, Turkey signed a deal with the EU to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. In return, the EU agreed to provide 3 billion ($4.87 billion) to help the country deal with the migrant crisis and to accelerate talks about Turkish membership in the union.

On Thursday, the EU announced plans for an emergency 700 million in humanitarian aid, but leaders across the continent are still struggling to manage the largest immigration crisis on European soil since World War II.

The meeting between Hollande and Cameron took on added dimensions after France's Economy Minister was quoted as saying that border controls could be lifted if Britain leaves the EU, opening up a potential path for migrants seeking to cross the English Channel.

In a news conference yesterday, Hollande took several minutes to arrive at the subject of Calais. Despite the tear gas French police have used against migrants this week - and beatings that have been recorded on social media - it was imperative, he said, that the migrants who remained "be welcomed with dignity". Paris has requested more financial aid from London in managing the crisis. In advance of the summit, Harlem Desir, France's Secretary of State for European Affairs, announced yesterday on RFI radio that the figure would include an additional 20 million - on top of the current 60 million.

The extra funds, Desir said, would help with "securing the access area to the tunnel and Calais port area" as well as "the fight against smuggling networks". Cameron said on Thursday that the precise figure would be 17 million ($35.7 million).

Echoing a rising sentiment across Europe, Cameron described the money as an expression of his Government's confidence in French border controls near the camps.

"People should know that if they come to Calais, that is not a waiting room for getting into the United Kingdom," he said. "We have strong borders, and it's very important people understand that.

"They should be seeking asylum in France, and if they're not asylum seekers, they should be returning to the countries from which they came."

Despite the immediate focus on the Calais camp crisis, the summit in Amiens was also an attempt by both leaders to illustrate the importance of Britain remaining in the EU. Britain is expected to hold a referendum in June on whether to leave the 28-nation bloc.

Before yesterday's talks began, Emmanuel Macron, the French Economy Minister, told the Financial Times that if Britain voted to leave, the French could end a deal that allows border controls to be carried out in France.

"The day this relationship unravels, migrants will no longer be in Calais," Macron said.

Campaigners for a British exit from the EU, dubbed "Brexit", dismissed the warnings as "propaganda". Bernard Jenkin, a Conservative lawmaker who is campaigning for Brexit, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What we are having now is propaganda being produced by other European governments at the request of the Prime Minister to try to scare people."

But Macron's comments suggest that Cameron's warnings were not entirely political. Brexit would not automatically lead to a change in the border agreement between the two countries. Last year, for instance, Bernard Cazeneuve, France's Interior Minister, said that tearing up the current agreement with Britain would be "a foolhardy path, and one the Government will not pursue".

Hollande urged the people of Britain not to leave. "I don't want to scare you," he said, "but there will be consequences if the UK decides to leave the EU."

- Bloomberg

- Washington Post

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