By Radovan Stoklasa
SKALITE, Slovakia (Reuters) -Slovakia moved on Wednesday to impose temporary controls on its border with Hungary over a rising number of illegal migrants, after Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria tightened their own frontiers with Slovakia.
Slovakia’s prime minister criticised the “chain reaction” of controls imposed on Tuesday by neighbours and said a European fix to guard the European Union’s external borders would be a better solution.
The number of migrants entering Slovakia, largely coming from the Middle East and Afghanistan, has risen by eleven-fold to nearly 40,000 this year, government data shows.
In September alone, illegal migration to the small central European country was as high as in all of 2022.
Slovakia’s checks on its border with Hungary will start on Thursday and last 10 days.
The Czech Republic, Poland and Austria started temporary controls on Wednesday. Germany introduced new controls with Poland and the Czech Republic last week. All are part of the wider EU’s Schengen open-border, visa-free travel zone.
The Polish Border Guard said crossings would be only possible at designated spots for cars, trains and pedestrians.
“The migration wave has lasted for several weeks,” said Peter Ivanek, deputy mayor of Skalite, a Slovak town near the Polish border where controls were imposed.
Jan, a lorry driver in the Slovak town who was turned away by Polish police and soldiers forming a cordon at the crossing, said it would cost his company time and money. “We wanted to get cheaper diesel (in Poland),” said Jan. “So this surprised us.”
Illegal migration has been both a source of agreement and contention in central Europe – though most arriving migrants are bound for wealthier countries further west especially Germany – and is featuring highly in election campaigns in the region.
On Wednesday EU countries sealed a deal on how to handle irregular immigration at times of high arrivals, a step towards overhauling the bloc’s asylum and migration rules next year.
Diplomatic sources said Poland and Hungary – opposed to hosting any people arriving from the Middle East and Africa – voted against the deal, while Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia abstained.
Slovak Prime Minister Ludovit Odor, serving as a caretaker until a new government takes office after the Sept. 30 election, previously resisted calls to impose border controls. The vote was won by former prime minister Robert Fico, now trying to form a government, who takes a hard line on immigration.
Odor said Slovakia had to introduce controls after its neighbours did so, citing an upcoming Oct. 15 election in Poland among motivating factors.
“Poland is before elections, such rhetoric appears, and then the Czech Republic reacts and so does Austria,” Odor said, adding Slovakia did not want to “hold the wrong card at the end”.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, responding to Slovak measures, said the EU was at fault. “Brussels policy sends an invitation letter for the migrants, attracts them like a magnet,” he said.
(Reporting by Radovan Stoklasa in Skalite, Jan Lopatka and Jason Hovet in Prague, Boldizsar Gyori in Budapest and Karel Badohal in Warsaw; editing by Deborah Kyvrikosaios)