July 3, 2018 / 8:38 PM / 4 months ago

Hungary's Orban open to bilateral migration deal with Merkel

BERLIN (Reuters) - Hungary’s anti-migrant Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Tuesday signalled his willingness to strike a bilateral deal with Chancellor Angela Merkel to limit the arrival of asylum seekers in Germany and other European countries.

FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban attends a news conference in Budapest, Hungary, June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas

Merkel needs the backing of both her junior Social Democrats coalition partner and fellow European Union states if a disputed migration plan agreed with her Bavarian allies is to succeed.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their long-time Bavarian Christian Social Union allies agreed on Monday to set up special transit centres at the border with Austria where migrants already registered in other EU countries will be held and then sent back to the countries where they had registered first.

In an interview with German mass daily Bild, Orban said Hungary was open for talks with Germany if Berlin managed to strike a migration deal with neighbouring Austria, whose Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is, like Orban, an immigration hardliner.

“The order can only be: negotiations between Germany and Austria, then negotiations between Austria and Hungary,” Orban said according to a Bild prerelease published on Tuesday.

“And only at the end, if there really is clarity about the German position, (there can be) negotiations between Hungary and Germany,” Orban added.

The Hungarian prime minister stressed the need to strengthen the protection of the European Union’s external borders and to establish migration transit centres outside the EU.

Orban added that he would soon hold talks with Kurz to discuss the next steps “with our direct, friendly neighbours”.

The migration dispute underlines the deep divisions lingering within Europe on how to deal with the migrants who have arrived in the last three years.

Numbers are sharply down from the peak reached at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015. However, there has been a surge in departures from Libya of migrants trying to cross by sea to Italy.

Orban says a large influx into Hungary of mostly Muslim migrants, many fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, since 2015 poses a threat to Europe’s Christian civilisation.

Kurz, who governs in coalition with the far right, has pledged to prevent a repeat of Europe’s 2015 migration crisis in which Austria took in more than one percent of its population in asylum seekers.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber, Editing by William Maclean

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