Amid a widening rift in the European Union over how to manage the bloc’s refugee problem, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer on Thursday separately called for more migrant returns to Greece and Italy.
During a tense press conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Orban called for undocumented migrants to be returned to Greece, noting that it is the first country of arrival even if all migrants are not registered there.
Referring to a fence erected along his country’s southern border with Serbia and Croatia, Orban described himself as a “captain” of border protection, shielding both Hungary and Germany, but acknowledged that Budapest and Berlin have different stances on migration.
While claiming to be open to discussion with EU counterparts, Orban said his position on migration has not changed over the past three years.
“We only know one solution: Close the borders,” he said, adding that if Europe offers support to refugees, it will be taken as an invitation. “If people can come, they will come,” he said.
Merkel struck an entirely different tone. “We must never forget that these are people,” she said. “These are people that are coming to us, and that has some relation to the basic message of Europe which is humanity.”
Meanwhile in Vienna, Seehofer said that migrants intercepted at the German border with Austria who have traveled to Europe via Greece or Italy must be returned to either Athens or Rome accordingly.
Seehofer, who spoke after talks with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, said he is to meet next week with his Italian and Austrian counterparts for talks aimed at restricting the Mediterranean sea route used by migrants heading to Western Europe.
The German minister made the comments though Rome and Berlin have yet to reach a deal on the issue.
The prospect of increased pressure on Greece comes as migrant reception centers are already woefully overcrowded.