Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger and Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad have criticised border controls Czechia introduced to stop increasing numbers of migrants crossing the country aiming for Germany. Austria has also now introduced similar controls, impeding what is meant to be passport-free travel in the Schengen area.
Passport checks on the official crossings will last 10 days and can be prolonged. Slovak traffic radios report road delays of up to 20 minutes. It is not allowed to cross the border at other places while the controls are in place.
“It is important to protect the outer Schengen border, but not to protect individual borders between ourselves”, Nad told Slovak media, adding that the move is about creating political pressure.
Heger backed Nad’s comments: “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. Schengen is about free movement of goods and people. What border controls are we talking about?” said Heger.
Slovakia and Czechia were until 1993 one country and have continued to have very close and friendly relations since then.
Nad also pointed out the common European dimension of the issue. “Germany has a feeling that the Czech Republic is not doing enough regulating them [migrants], so they placed it on the border between Czechia and Slovakia," said Nad, and he questioned whether Slovakia would now have to make similar moves on the Hungarian border.
Czech authorities said some 9,500 people had been detained in the Zlin and South Moravian regions bordering Slovakia since June and that 120 people and seven smugglers have been detained since the border controls were introduced on Thursday. Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and Minister of Interior Vit Rakusan have been arguing in recent days that the situation reached a point when authorities had to act.
“The wave of illegal migration we are now experiencing is unprecedented. Year-on-year illegal migration has increased by an unbelievable 1,200 percent. In recent days the situation in the South Moravian and Zlin regions has reached a critical point”, Rakusan said.
Prague police, which conducts border controls at Brumov-Bylnice in the Zlin region, confirmed it had fired warning shots after a smuggler ran his van at high speed through the border crossing on Thursday. Detained smugglers face criminal charges and up to five years in prison. Detained people using smugglers’ services are returned to Slovakia, head of Czech Foreign Police Milan Majer told Czech Radio.
Jan Schroth, OECD advisor for migrant issues, said Germany could be pressuring Czechia to not just let people cross the territory, but also “to conduct checks” and possibly “discourage them from reaching Germany”.
The fact that the Czech cabinet announced the checks in advance was likely a signal to the EU that there needs to be more cooperation, Schrot told Czech Radio, and perhaps also a signal to the people smugglers and people using their services.
Schoth was also asked by Czech Radio whether Czechia is dealing with a similar migrant wave to that which Germany and Southern European countries experienced in 2015. “The situation is completely different”, replied Schroth, but he admitted that border controls are an exceptional measure.
“We are talking about several thousand people who are merely trying to get through Czechia. From a security perspective they certainly do not pose any risk”, Schroth explained.
“This wave is more than 90% composed of Syrians” who found out there is no perspective for them in the current political or security environment in Syria or Turkey after initial signs showed that region might stabilise. The Russian army as well as mercenary Wagner units have both been repeatedly accused of targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure in Syria.
“They are people with higher education and desire to study or work” and “they are not the poorest ones”, Schroth said, and can afford to make such an expansive and arduous journey as they often have relatives or friends in Germany and have no other way to reach them.
Schroth pointed out that “Syrians pay €10,000” and it is not difficult to calculate that smugglers are making hundreds of thousand euros in profits, making it worthwhile to them to take the risk. Moreover, many people using smugglers services get duped and are often left in a forest and told they have reached Germany.
Czechia and Slovakia were not destination or even significant transit countries during the 2015 migration wave but both have experienced a recent wave of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian army’s invasion of Ukraine. Both countries have vowed to continue to provide military and humanitarian support to Ukraine and help Ukrainians fleeing the violence to Czechia and Slovakia, but are much less welcoming to refugees from the Middle East.
Schroth pointed out that Czechia “is a destination country for Ukrainians for historic and economic reasons”. Many have relatives or friends living in Czechia and Ukrainians represent one of the most important minorities in Czechia.