The Czech Republic has announced that it will end conducting border controls with neighboring Slovakia, which had been introduced in a bid to control irregular migration patterns. But elsewhere in the bloc, border controls remain on high alert.
Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan said that the controls will end on Sunday night (February 5) as only a handful of illegally entering migrants were being apprehended each day.
He stressed, however, that around 70 police officers would remain in the border area to carry out spot checks. He added that joint Czech-Slovak police patrols on trains were also planned.
The border controls had been introduced at the end of September 2022 — much to the displeasure of the neighboring Slovak government in Bratislava.
The Czech government in Prague had justified the step after observing a notable increase in irregular migration movements on the so-called Western Balkan route into Western Europe.
More than 3 million people were checked in the border area since the controls were introduced, according to authorities, but less than 10,000 illegal entry attempts were logged — a quarter of whom were successfully turned back at the border in time.
In addition, the police arrested 141 suspected smugglers during these operations.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed a common state, Czechoslovakia, until their peaceful partition on January 1, 1993. Both EU member states belong to the Schengen area, where freedom of movement is a cornerstone of the bloc's raison d'etre.
Read more: Czech Republic saw number of irregular migrant arrivals double in 2022
Latvia extends state of emergency
Elsewhere along the EU's external border, governments continue to be on the look-up for irregular migration movements.
Latvia extended its state of emergency along its border with neighboring Belarus once more. It will now be in effect until May 10, the Interior Ministry announced. With this extension, Latvia's border guard will retain the power to send back migrants who entered the country using irregular means.
A key factor for the decision, said the Interior Ministry, was the fact that Latvia -- unlike its neighbor Lithuania -- had not erected a permanent fence along its border with Belarus to date.
The state of emergency was first introduced in August 2021, as thousands of people were intercepted attempting to cross the country's external EU border from Belarus into Latvia.
According to Latvian Interior Ministry data, more than 9,600 such attempts to cross the border have been registered since the state of emergency first was declared. The ministry says that the number of attempted irregular border crossings has increased once more in the past three months.
Read more: Latvia: Afghan migrant smuggled from Belarus dies of hypothermia
'Hybrid warfare' in aid of Russia's war
The extension of the state of emergency measures took place while taking neighboring Russia's invasion of Ukraine into account; Belarus is the only country in continental Europe which supports the Russian war.
The European Union has long accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of deliberately bringing migrants from various crisis regions in the Middle to the EU's external border in an organized manner to destabilize the bloc. The European Commission has referred to the allegations against the Belarusian strongman as a form of "hybrid warfare."
In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lukashenko's alleged actions are also seen as a way to show support for Russia -- by hitting the EU's morale and weakening its coffers.
Read more: Irregular entries into 'fortress Europe' on the rise - despite more border fences