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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban  (AFP or licensors)

Germany and Hungary leaders clash over migration

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán concluded tense talks that were overshadowed by their differences over migration. Both leaders publicly clashed over the issue, underscoring a split within the entire European Union over how to deal with people seeking refuge from desperate circumstances.

By Stefan J. Bos

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán agreed to disagree on migration.

Speaking after their talks in Berlin, Merkel urged Hungary's anti-migration prime minister to show more humanity towards people fleeing war, persecution, and poverty. "That's probably what separates us, that humanity is the soul of Europe," Chancellor Merkel said, standing next to Orbán.

"And if we want to protect this soul if Europe with its values wants to play a role in the world, then Europe can't simply close its eyes from the need and from suffering," she stressed.

But speaking at the same news conference in Berlin, Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán defended his decision to close the country's southern borders for asylum seekers. "We consider it unfair that often we are being accused of having a lack of solidarity in Germany. But I want to tell you that 8,000 guards are stationed at the border 24 hours a day protecting a border that would let migrants into Germany if they passed it."

He added: "If our Hungarian guards did not protect the Hungarian-Serbian and Hungarian-Croatian borders, 4,000 to 5,000 migrants would come to Germany every day. So we are protecting them as well. This is solidarity, pretty good solidarity."      

Few migrants

However at the Serbian-Hungarian border very few, if any, migrants currently enter Hungary. Yet the issue of migration has strained German Chancellor Merkel's governing coalition and divides the 28-nation European Union.

Italy and Malta recently refused to take in migrants rescued at sea by aid groups and Merkel has had to agree with her conservative allies to turn back asylum-seekers who've registered in another of the bloc's nations.

Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán said he believes asylum-seekers who register in Hungary must have come through Greece or Bulgaria first.

He warned that his country, therefore, won't feel obliged to take them if they are turned back by Germany.

Under EU rules, migrants are supposed to be returned to where they first entered the block and applied for asylum, but those regulations have been largely unenforced.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report


06 July 2018, 17:19