Photo: Around 12,000 asylum seekers are stuck at the Greek-Macedonian border. (AFP: Sakis Mitrolidis)
- Germany, Greece slam closure of Balkan route
- EU President Donald Tusk praises closure
- Thousands of asylum seekers are now trapped in Greece
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel said the closures were "neither sustainable nor lasting" in tackling Europe's biggest migrant crisis since World War II and would leave Greece bearing the burden of the influx.
Underlining the deep divisions cleaving the bloc, Ms Merkel and Mr Tsipras' reactions flew in the face of the response of EU President Donald Tusk, who welcomed the route closure as being part of a collective response of the 28-member EU.
The strong words came after Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia barred entry to transiting asylum seekers, and Serbia indicated it would follow suit.
EU member Slovenia said it would allow in only migrants and refugees wishing to claim asylum there or those seeking entry "on humanitarian grounds and in accordance with the rules of the Schengen zone".
Prime Minister Miro Cerar said the move meant that "the (Balkan) route for illegal migrations no longer exists", while Mr Tusk on Twitter called the decision "not a question of unilateral actions but common EU28 decision".
"I thank Western Balkan countries for implementing part of EU's comprehensive strategy to deal with migration crisis," he wrote.
Mr Tsipras retorted on Twitter that Mr Tusk should "focus efforts on implementing our common decisions and not encourage those who ignore them".
Leaving Greece in the lurch
Under pressure at home to reduce the influx, Ms Merkel acknowledged the western Balkan states' action "will obviously bring us fewer refugees, but they put Greece in a very difficult situation".
Her Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel noted while some at home were "secretly pleased that the Balkan states ... are doing Germany's dirty work", their actions would not help in the long term.
Ms Merkel is battling to avoid leaving Greece in the lurch as the number of asylum seekers stranded there is still steadily growing.
Greek authorities said on Thursday there were 41,973 migrants and refugees in the country, including some 12,000 stuck at Idomeni on the closed Macedonian border.
The EU has been locked in dispute over how to stem an unprecedented influx of asylum seekers that reached more than a million in 2015, many from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and most aiming to reach wealthy Germany, Austria and Scandinavia.
Ms Merkel wants a comprehensive European deal with Turkey to stop asylum seekers from jumping on unseaworthy rubber boats to get to Europe.
The plan involves joint action with Ankara to tighten the EU's external borders, while also distributing migrants and refugees among EU members.
"If we do not manage to reach a deal with Turkey, then Greece cannot bear the burden for long," she said.
"That's why I am seeking a real European solution, that is, a solution for all 28 (EU members)," stressed Ms Merkel, who was once vilified in Greece over her hardline push for austerity, but is now standing firmly by Athens.
In the meantime, asylum seekers also did not appear dissuaded by latest developments, and were still risking their lives to cross to Europe.
At least another five asylum seekers, including a baby, drowned as they tried to sail from Turkey to Greece, local media reported on Thursday.