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Slovakia angered by Czech border controls

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Bratislava, Slovakia – More than six weeks after their introduction, Slovakia is growing weary of the border checks conducted by its western neighbour and former sister nation.

Czech Republic extends border controls with Slovakia

Announced two days earlier, the Czech Republic started enforcing temporary checks at its 252-km-long border with Slovakia on September 29, initially for a period of ten days, amid a spike of illegal migrants trying to enter the country.

Also faced with an uptick in illegal crossings, Austria took similar steps. “We have already set extensive measures at the border with Hungary and Slovenia. Now the police will also check at the border with Slovakia”, Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner announced.

“What we are experiencing is an unprecedented situation in terms of illegal migration,” Czech Interior Minister Vít Rakušan said at the time. “Since the start of 2022, the police have seized a total of 11,000 illegal migrants on the territory of the Czech Republic”, a 12-fold increase from a year ago.

Most of the Syrian and other third-country migrants arrive from Turkey to pass through Slovakia and the Czech Republic as transition countries, and make their way to countries further west, especially Germany.

“There has been a detected increase on the number of Syrian and other nationalities on the move along the Eastern and Balkan routes to EU countries”, the Prague office of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) confirmed to Kafkadesk.

“The diversification in routes and vulnerabilities among those on the move is a concern, including children and victims of human trafficking”, IOM Prague spokesman Filip Stowasser said.

Czech authorities highlighted that the rise in illegal migration also led to an increase in smuggling, and insisted they opted for border checks because all other options had been exhausted.

Highlighting that the government was doing all it could to prevent Germany from itself introducing checks at its Czech border, Interior Minister Vít Rakušan urged the European Commission “to negotiate with all relevant partners, including non-EU ones” to stem the arrival of migrants and find a Europe-wide solution.

Border checks cause anger and frustration on Slovak side

The Czech Republic later decided to prolong the controls at its border with Slovakia until the end of October, and once again until mid-December, claiming the number of illegal migrants had already started to drop and that dozens of smugglers had been arrested.

“This is a measure that we do not like to take, but the situation requires it,” Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said when announcing the latest extension.

Nearly 9,000 cases of irregular migrants were intercepted by Czech authorities since the end of September, and 74 smugglers were arrested.

But Slovakia has grown increasingly weary of the extensions, arguing that they violated the Schengen Borders Code and the EU’s open-border and free movement policy.

Just after their introduction at the end of September, Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger said that Bratislava had not been warned and that a solution should be found at the EU level.

“We are part of Schengen, and it is totally absurd to expect that we protect the border between Slovakia and Hungary or between Slovakia and Czechia and so on,” Heger reacted, while Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad appeared to blame Germany for pressuring the Czech Republic to do more to regulate migrants’ arrivals in their own country.

Meeting with his counterpart in Prague last week, Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger stepped up pressure on Czech authorities to relax the border controls, which in some cases have obstructed truck transport and caused the anger of Slovak drivers and commuters.

“We have been calling for the lifting of all long-lasting internal border controls,” EU Commission spokesman Andrea Masini said in a statement, pointing to the institution’s 2021 proposal and ongoing negotiations to reform the Schengen Borders Code.

“We have consistently made clear that temporary controls may only be used in exceptional circumstances to provide a response to situations seriously affecting public policy or internal security and where no equally effective alternative measures are available.”

Headed by Kafkadesk's chief-editor Jules Eisenchteter, our Prague office gathers over half a dozen reporters, editors and contributors, as well as our social media team. It covers everything Czech and Slovak-related, and oversees operations from our other Central European desks in Krakow and Budapest.