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UN Refugee Official Blasts EU Over Migrant ‘Travel Warning’


FILE - Vincent Cochetel, Director of the Bureau for Europe at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is seen at a press conference in Budapest, Hungary, Sept. 8, 2015.

FILE - Vincent Cochetel, Director of the Bureau for Europe at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is seen at a press conference in Budapest, Hungary, Sept. 8, 2015.

A top U.N. refugee official has criticized European Union leaders for calling on migrants not to come to Europe.

Speaking to reporters Friday in Brussels, UNHCR Europe bureau director Vincent Cochetel said that 91 percent of migrants arriving in Greece from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are fleeing conflict zones and not looking for work.

"The inconvenient truth is that refugees are still coming to Europe because the wars in the neighborhood of Europe are not solved. I know there is an attempt by some European leaders to re-qualify the problem but we are getting a bit tired to hear about irregular migrants when we are talking about Syrians fleeing from Allepo,” Cochetel said. “To call them irregular migrants is a bit of a shortcut. And we believe that European leaders should use the appropriate terminology to describe this movement."

Migrants trudge toward a makeshift refugee camp in the northern Greek border station of Idomeni, where they hope to get permission to move onto other points in Europe, March 4, 2016.

Migrants trudge toward a makeshift refugee camp in the northern Greek border station of Idomeni, where they hope to get permission to move onto other points in Europe, March 4, 2016.

'Do not come to Europe'

Cochetel's reaction came after EU Council President Donald Tusk warned potential migrants Thursday against traveling to Europe.

"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. Greece or any other European country will no longer be a transit country," Tusk said.

Under international law, people fleeing conflicts have the right to apply for asylum.

The statistical office of the European Union, Eurostat, reported Friday that a record number of more than 1.2 million first-time asylum seekers arrived in the EU in 2015, more than double the figure from the previous year.

It said that the largest group of refugees came from Syria, followed by Afghanistan and Iraq. The highest number, more than a third, applied for asylum in Germany. Hungary and Sweden were second and third. Finland had the highest percentage increase (822 percent) compared to a year earlier, followed by Hungary (323 percent) and Austria (233 percent).

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