Over two hundred Green Line border agents will report on duty later this month on the Greek Cypriot side of the UN buffer zone, but the newly-hired sergeants will only focus on irregular migrants, leaving drug trafficking and other crimes off the agenda.
According to Philenews, a total of 218 border guards, who have been hired through fast-track procedures as special sergeants, will complete their training on May 19, when they will report for duty in various communities that border the buffer zone on the divided island.
The special agents, who have been trained across disciplines and agencies including Migration and Special Operations, will reportedly graduate from the Police Academy to assume duties of patrolling or monitoring possible locations where irregular migrants enter the Republic of Cyprus from the unrecognized Turkish Cypriot north.
Border guards, who will be armed, will also be authorized to carry out immigration inspections of irregular migrants and asylum seekers, hunt down human smugglers, escort individuals to migration centers, as well as deport irregular migrants.
The new measure, which was launched by the previous administration, became contentious as regular officers are not authorized to carry out migration inspections, while measures in general drew other kinds of criticism from Europeans for possibly violating the Green Line Regulation.
Armed border guards will be authorized to carry out immigration inspections on the spot, hunt down human smugglers, escort individuals to migration centers, as well as deport migration rule offenders
It also drew criticism from the United Nations over concerns it would violate the status quo in the buffer zone as well as over its reliance on a controversial policy to pushback asylum seekers.
A UN report last year pointed out that asylum procedures remained inaccessible on the Greek Cypriot side of crossing points, where asylum-seekers showing up at the crossing point were being refused such access and pushed back into the buffer zone.
“This lack of access to regular procedures, coupled with pushbacks of boats in 2021 which resulted in nine confirmed instances of refoulement of persons in need of international protection, contributed to an exponential increase in the number of persons who crossed the Green Line irregularly in order to eventually gain access to asylum procedures, putting them at risk of exploitation and abuse by smugglers and traffickers,” the report said.
But the Cypriot government has accused Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot administration of pushing or encouraging economic migrants to cross into the Greek Cypriot south, which is an internationally-recognized state and an EU member.
A few years ago a camera system near the buffer zone was also decided to be included as a measure to combat illegal crossings, including drug trafficking and other crimes such as illicit trade.
Previous reports had suggested an automated system would allow authorities to monitor all sorts of crime along the buffer zone that spans over 100 miles east to west, splitting the island in two parts.
But Philenews suggested the special border agents will be in communication with camera operators, who will direct them to people suspected of crossing the buffer zone illegally.
The camera installation has already began while dozens of special pickup trucks are still expected to be delivered for the operations.
While buffer zone crossings dropped down considerably, media pundits say recent activity coupled with improved weather conditions could mark a new period of increase in migrant flows.