Greece risks being 'concentration camp' for refugees: Varoufakis

The refugee crisis is a "manifestation of the disintegration of the European Union," Greece's controversial former finance minister told CNBC on Thursday, as he warned against Turkey and Greece becoming a "large concentration camp for hapless refugees."

Yanis Varoufakis, who served as finance minister in 2015 under the ruling left-wing Syriza party, said Europe was "rich enough" to cope with the influx of refugees who have flooded to Europe in the wake of the turmoil in Syria.

"The European Union should be a proper union with borders, which we control in a humane way. When somebody knocks on your door and they've been shot at, they have kids that are dying or thirsty or hungry, you just open your door to them," he told CNBC at the Global Financial Markets Forum in Abu Dhabi.

Yanis Varoufakis talks to CNBC in Abu Dhabi
CNBC
Yanis Varoufakis talks to CNBC in Abu Dhabi

According to the United Nations (UN), 131,724 refugees and migrants made the risky journey across the Mediterranean Sea during January and February. The large majority of these people, 122,637, landed in Greece.

The European Union (EU), of which Greece is a member, has struggled to agree to a strategy to deal with the waves of people, particularly in the wake of terrorist attacks from the group that calls itself the "Islamic State."

However, on Wednesday, the EU launched a 700 million euro ($760 million) fund to help Greece cope with the crisis.

"The fact that we are now spending some money on refugees is a good thing, but you cannot buy back the lost dignity of the European Union," Varoufakis told CNBC.

On Tuesday, the UN warned of an "imminent humanitarian crisis" in Greece and accused European nations of failing to cooperate to solve the problem.

"With governments not working together despite having already reached agreements in a number of areas, and country after country imposing new border restrictions, inconsistent practices are causing unnecessary suffering and risk being at variance with EU and international law standards," a spokesperson for the UN's refugee agency said at a press briefing.

Newer member countries of the EU in the east of the bloc have proved less willing to accept refugees than longer-standing, richer countries to the west. In particular, the likes of Hungary and Slovakia have refused calls for all 28 member states to take in a quota of refugees.

On Wednesday, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair said that improving the situation in Syria itself was crucial.

"There is no solution outside of that in my view ... Europe will of course have a problem absorbing this number of people, but it is also a security problem for Europe," he said at a conference interview at the Global Financial Markets Forum in Abu Dhabi.

Varoufakis left government before the refugee crisis reached its current zenith, under pressure from Syriza Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. It was felt that Varoufakis's combative approach to negotiations with Greece's bailout supervisors was unhelpful, particularly after he likened the country's creditors to terrorists.

— By CNBC's Katy Barnato and Geoff Cutmore at the Global Financial Markets Forum in Abu Dhabi.