As the Czech Republic tightens border security in connection with the migrant crisis police officers are returning to the old border check-points of the pre-Schengen era. However many of the buildings are now in private ownership and they find they have no base from which to operate.
When the Czech Republic entered the Schengen zone on December 21st of 2007 officials hailed it as the start of a new era. Border checks were abolished overnight and no one considered the possibility of the country one day having to renew controls. The buildings serving police and customs officers at checkpoints stood empty for months and even years, but the vast majority were eventually sold. Those that were in key nodes and presented more lucrative buys were sold on condition that they would not be re-sold for a period of ten years and would be leased back to the state at any time in the event of need. Those which proved much harder to sell because of their condition or isolated location were sold with no strings attached. As a result officers now deployed at certain border crossings are on duty around the clock working from tents, their cars or, at best, pre-fabricated containers with no electricity or running water. Spokesman for the South Bohemian police Miroslav Doubek says the police presence at the border has gradually intensified regardless of the work conditions.
“We constantly monitor all crossing points along our stretch of the border and we deploy officers according to the information received in order to maintain a high level of control.”
Although the Czech Republic is not on the main migrant route to Western Europe from the start of this crisis the country has maintained heightened control of its borders and the present situation does not indicate an imminent change of policy. Indeed the Interior Ministry has said it is ready to cooperate with the army in stepping-up border security should the need arise and earlier this year police officers and soldiers took part in a joint training session working together to effectively close a section of the border for 12 hours.
While Czech officials are still pushing hard for the EU to introduce joint patrols at Schengen’s outer borders and thus preserve the Schengen open space, speculation regarding the possibility of a small Schengen comprising of a few select states, and unilateral measures undertaken by individual EU member states to secure their borders, paint an uncertain future.
And with the winter months coming, the authorities are working to meet the basic needs of officers deployed along the border – albeit in the form of mobile power generators, toilets and deliveries of bottled water. Even if the worst-case scenario is avoided and effective controls of the outer Schengen border allow non-buffer states to relax their vigilance, it will take time for the situation to return to normal.
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