Austria to launch checks at Slovak border to stop migrants

By KRISTEN GRIESHABER

BERLIN (AP) — Austria said Wednesday it would begin checks at its border crossings with Slovakia, following a similar move by the Czech Republic, in an effort to keep migrants out.

The measure comes into effect on Wednesday at midnight, the Austrian government said.

The Austrian Interior Ministry said the border controls are a response to the conflict with Slovakia from Thursday and aim to ensure human traffickers do not use Austria as an alternative.

“We have to react before the smugglers react,” Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner told public broadcaster ORF.

Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia all belong to the European Union’s visa-free Schengen zone, where people can normally cross borders unchecked. However, temporary border controls have been reinstated several times in the past, whether to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic or to prevent migrants from entering illegally.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer told reporters on Wednesday that he would meet Hungarian President Viktor Orban and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic next week to discuss the migration issue.

“States are not doing this for themselves, but to fight organized crime and smuggling and to reduce border pressure,” Nehammer said in Vienna.

Austria introduced checks along its borders with Hungary and Slovenia in 2015, when more than a million migrants from war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan entered the country. ‘European Union. The Alpine country has repeatedly extended these controls, which remain in place.

At the time, only about 8,500 migrants were detained in the Czech Republic, while this year so far 12,000 migrants have been detained, the Czech Interior Ministry said, adding that most of them they were Syrians. A total of 125 smugglers have been arrested in the Czech Republic this year, a significant increase from previous years.

Most migrants do not want to stay in the Czech Republic or Slovakia, but cross them to reach wealthier places like Germany, Sweden or Austria.

Austrian border controls will initially be applied to 11 crossings to Slovakia for 10 days.

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Karel Janicek contributed to this report from Prague.

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