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Merkel, Orban clash over migration policy

July 5, 2018

Angela Merkel and her Hungarian counterpart have butted heads over how Europe should deal with migrants. Germany's chancellor said there was a need for "humanity," while Viktor Orban called for borders to be closed.

Viktor Orban and Angela Merkel give a press conference in Berlin
Image: Reuters/A. Schmidt

During a tense news conference on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the Hungarian government's stance on migration as "a problem," and called for people seeking refuge to be treated humanely.

"The problem I see, and where (our) difference lies, is that we must always remember and never forget that this is about human beings," Merkel told reporters, after talks with Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Berlin.

"It is about human beings who come to us, and about Europe's basic message. And that is humanity."

Read moreCould Hungary's transit zones for refugees be a model for Germany?

European Union countries are divided over how to deal with the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have arrived in recent years in search of a better life.

The bloc's leaders have reached a deal to share out refugees between member states on a voluntary basis, but a number of countries, including Hungary, have said they don't plan to accept any migrants.

Read moreIs Viktor Orban the EU's hardline hero or villain?

Orban: 'Germany should be grateful'

"Germany and Hungary see the world differently," said Orban, a harsh critic of Merkel's decision to leave Germany's borders open to migrants in 2015.

The Hungarian leader said Europe could best demonstrate humanity by removing incentives for refugees to make the journey in the first place.

"We have to be humane without creating a pull-factor, and the only way we know of doing that is closing the borders... and not let in people who bring trouble."

Orban added that Germany should be grateful for the fence Hungary had built on its borders, which he said was guarded "by 8,000 armed men."

"We think it's unfair that Germany often accuses us of a lack of solidarity," he said.

Merkel defends migration deal

Germany hardens policy

The meeting came days after Merkel agreed to tighten border security to quell a rebellion by hardline Interior Minister Horst Seehofer that had threatened to bring down her government.

Under the agreement, asylum-seekers arriving in Germany who first registered in another EU member state will be sent back to that country. The government will also set up closed "transit centers" to hold migrants on the Austrian border while their status is checked.

Read moreGermany's migrant transit centers: What you need to know

Merkel is now hoping to forge a number of bilateral deals to allow the speedy return of migrants who previously registered elsewhere. Budapest and Prague have already indicated they won't be part of any such deal.

Seehofer, who was in Austria Thursday to discuss cooperation, said he expects "very difficult talks" with Italy and Greece, where the majority of asylum-seekers entered the bloc.

nm/kms (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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