Slovakia’s Fico: border checks with Hungary a priority for new government

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovakia needs to restart border controls with Hungary to stem the flow of illegal migrants, election winner Robert Fico said on Sunday, flagging the issue as one of his potential government’s first priorities.

Fico and his SMER-SSD group sat in pole position to form the next government for the nation of 5.5 million after winning nearly 23% of the vote in a Saturday election, making it the strongest party in the new parliament.

However, to build a coalition, Fico still must convince a former ally turned rival party leader to govern with him, as well as a small nationalist party.

Fico campaigned strongly against illegal migration in the run-up to Saturday’s election, criticising a caretaker government for not doing more and for not suspending Europe’s Schengen “open border” rules.

The three-time former prime minister said controls were needed all along Slovakia’s border with Hungary.

“One of the first decisions of the government must be an order renewing border controls with Hungary,” Fico told a news conference. “It will not be a pretty picture,” he said, adding force would be needed.

A rising flow of illegal migrants have crossed into Slovakia as they head to Germany and western Europe in recent years, providing political fodder to politicians in the region seeking to capitalise on the issue with voters.

The migrants, predominantly young men from the Middle East and Afghanistan, have mostly come up via the so-called Balkan route, entering Hungary from Serbia despite a steel fence that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had built after the 2015 migration crisis that rocked Europe.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Jason Hovet, Editing by Michael Kahn)