Hungarian PM Victor Orban, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl state that European Union cannot take in anymore refugees
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a severe critic of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door refugee policy, agreed on Tuesday in a meeting with former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl that it was questionable whether Europe could continue to absorb refugees indefinitely.
Orban and Kohl released a joint statement after the right-wing Hungarian leader paid a rare private visit to the 86-year-old Kohl, architect of Germany's 1990 reunification and a major driver of European integration in the 1990s.
Orban's meeting with Kohl, 86, who rarely appears in public and is largely wheelchair bound, fuelled speculation that Germany's foremost elder statesman disagrees with Merkel's course.
The Kohl-Orban statement said they share with Merkel the overall objective of alleviating the humanitarian emergency represented by refugees but signalled differences over how to deal with the challenge.
"There is complete agreement on the goal," the two said in the statement issued by Kohl's office after the hour-long Orban visit to the conservative Christian Democrat's longtime home in Oggersheim near the Rhine river in southwestern Germany.
"It is about a good future for Europe and peace in the world. The efforts of (Merkel) point in the same direction."
But, they added, "how many people can Europe sensibly take in and in the end integrate? And what happens to the remaining millions of people in need around the world who cannot flee?"
Critics claim Merkel's decision last year to let in Syrian refugees without restriction contributed to the arrival of more than 1 million asylum-seekers in Germany - the great majority of those reaching European Union territory - in the last year.
By contrast, Orban's government has built a razor wire fence on Hungary's border with Serbia and Croatia to keep out mostly Muslim refugees, claiming the need to help safeguard Europe's Christian civilization.
In a column published on Sunday in Berlin's Tagespiegel daily, Kohl said he did not think the EU could integrate millions of refugees. "The solution lies in the affected regions. It does not lie in Europe. Europe cannot become a new home for millions of people in need around the world," he wrote.
Last week, Merkel agreed to require refugees granted residence rights to show willingness to integrate by learning German and seeking work or see their benefits cut. Her government has also introduced steps to speed up processing of applications and deportations of those refused permission to stay.
Neighbouring Austria, as well as Balkan countries, have also closed their borders against undocumented refugees, cutting their overland route from Greece to Germany. The refugee flow has since slowed down and the pressure on Merkel has eased.
She appeared relaxed about Orban's visit with Kohl, saying the two had known each other a long time and the talks were "sensible and useful".