Czech border controls blocking migrant route to Germany frustrate Slovakia

KUTY, Slovakia, Nov 10 (Reuters) – Slovakia on Thursday stepped up pressure on the Czech Republic to ease border controls in place for weeks to tackle rising numbers of migrants, mostly from Syria , heading for Germany and Western Europe. .

The controls have increased tensions between the allies, with Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger challenging their use under European Union rules. He raised the issue with his Czech counterpart Petr Fiala on Thursday evening in Prague.

Checks at entry points along the 252 km (157 mile) Czech-Slovak border to deter migrants on foot and smuggled in vehicles have blocked trucking, often causing delays of several hours and provoking the anger of Slovak truckers.

Slovakia says the checks violate the principles of the EU’s visa-free Schengen zone, of which the two countries are part.

Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan said after the Czech and Slovak delegations met that controls would remain in place but an effort was being made to ease them for residents.

“It would certainly be good to carry out the checks so that they are as fast as possible for Czech and Slovak citizens,” Rakusan said in an interview with Czech television.

“We have agreed on enhanced police cooperation right on the border,” he said, adding that the two prime ministers would give more details on Friday.

The EU has recognized temporary Czech controls due to “irregular immigration, activities of organized groups of smugglers”.

This month, the Slovak government set up a camp of 16 tents in Kuty, a border town, to manage the flow of migrants stopped by checks.

“I want to go to Germany because my father and my family are there,” said Khalid, 24, speaking from this camp after being stopped by Czech checkpoints, following a six-week trip from Syria .

“I just want to go to Germany to work. I don’t have any money.”

The Czech government introduced the controls on September 29 after seeing a 12-fold increase, to 12,000, in the number of illegal migrant detentions so far in 2022.

Since then, Czech police said on Monday they had uncovered 8,840 cases of illegal immigration and returned 2,841 people to Slovakia.

The vast majority of migrants are Syrians, heading mainly to Germany, authorities said. The Slovak Interior Ministry said the civil war in Syria made it difficult to deport migrants.

About 200 people filled the camp earlier this week, most staying two or three days.

“We are trying to set up a coordinated center here where people can stay for a while and then continue further,” Michaela Kanova, from the crisis section of the Slovak Interior Ministry, said during a briefing at the camp. Thursday.

Truckers held a brief border blockade on Monday night before obtaining a promise from the authorities that the situation would be calmed down.

The Slovaks have also sought to help strengthen the Schengen external border between EU member Hungary and non-member Serbia, where many migrants enter the EU before passing through Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Reporting by Radovan Stoklasa in Kuty, Jason Hovet and Robert Muller in Prague; Editing by Alison Williams and Deepa Babington

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James V. Hayes