Poland and Czechia to reintroduce controls on border with Slovakia

Poland and Czechia to reintroduce controls on border with Slovakia
Refugees have been entering Slovakia via Hungary, where the government recently released more than 2,000 traffickers. / bne IntelliNews
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw, Albin Sybera October 4, 2023

In a coordinated move, Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria will impose temporary border controls on their respective borders with Slovakia at midnight of October 4.

The tightened control regime is aimed at curbing "illegal migration" and people trafficking along the so-called Balkan route, the governments said. Tightened checks will remain in place until October 13 at least.

The border controls follow a reported shift in refugee flows along the Balkan route to go via Slovakia and from there into the Czech Republic, Austria and Poland and then into Germany. The temporary checks are allowed under the Schengen passport-free agreement.

Migration control has emerged as a central theme in Poland’s campaign ahead of a general election that will be held of October 15. The ruling radical rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party says that the opposition wants to make Polish borders less secure, which would result in “scenes of unrest as seen in Western Europe”.

“The ease with which illegal migrants obtain the right to stay in the EU and the high social benefits they receive are leading to a new influx. This policy is irresponsible, inadequate for the challenges, and ideologically driven,” Poland’s Home Affairs Minister Mariusz Kaminski told a press conference.

“The only appropriate response to the wave of illegal migration engulfing Europe is a strong defence of the EU's external borders and a change in the EU’s asylum system,” Kaminski also said.

The centre-right Czech government is like-minded. “Thanks to the controls, we will be able to ensure the security of our citizens better,” Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala wrote on X (formerly Twitter), adding that there are “rising numbers of illegal migrants into the EU”.

"This is a measure necessary for the effective fight against groups of smugglers and illegal migration," Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan said on  X on Tuesday.

Poland will carry out controls at 11 road and rail crossing points as well as 11 pedestrian crossings, with only EU citizens, their spouses and children allowed to use the latter.

Along the Czech-Slovak border, the Czech authorities will conduct checks at random.

There are 27 former border crossings between Czechia and Slovakia, and police stated some 130 policemen will be involved in random checks in coordination with customs authorities. At this stage, the Ministry of Interior plans to introduce checks for 10 days until October 13.

In line with the Schengen rules, Poland and Czechia can renew controls on the EU’s internal borders for subsequent periods not longer than 20 days while the total period keeping controls in place must not exceed two months.

Czechia introduced border controls with Slovakia last autumn, a move which Slovakia’s then-government officials criticised as going against the spirit of Schengen Agreement. Prague ended controls in February.

Slovakia said that it was against unilateral steps and that migration needs an EU-wide solution, the head of the Slovak technocratic cabinet, Ludovit Odor, said.

Slovakia said last month the number of detained illegal migrants had soared to more than 27,000 this year, up nine times from the same period the year before.

Robert Fico, the leader of the populist Smer party, which won the snap election held in Slovakia on September 30, has called on the Odor government to “renew controls at the Slovak-Hungarian border”, and has said he will make it a priority if he succeeds in forming a government.

Fico was tasked with forming the new cabinet on Monday. Smer won the snap vote after a campaign that ramped up anti-migrant rhetoric.

Austria has already introduced controls at its borders with Hungary and Slovenia. Germany and France have also begun ad hoc checks at their borders.