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18 June, 2024
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Lawmakers approve private 'green line' armed cops

Cypriot parliament approves ‘the 300’ special armed officers to combat migration but regs still unclear


The parliament in the Republic of Cyprus has approved legislation allowing the hiring and training of 300 private police officers tasked with combating illegal migration along the UN buffer zone, but regulations were still unclear.

Following hours of debate on Thursday, lawmakers passed a government bill allowing 300 special police to be hired and trained in the fight against illegal migration along the divided island’s green line.

A total of 24 representatives including members from ruling party DYSI, center DIKO, nationalist ELAM, socialist EDEK, and centrist DIPA, voted in favor of the bill, while 12 votes against came from leftist AKEL.

The new law authorizes the Chief of Police, subject to approval by the Interior Minister, to hire special private police officers who will bear arms as they patrol areas along the UN buffer zone as well as carry out other duties to combat flows of irregular migration from the northern part of Cyprus.

Critics of the bill said the private officers should not be armed as they will come in contact with undocumented migrants, including women and children

Critics of the bill said the private officers should not be armed as they will come in contact with undocumented migrants, including women and children, while others cautioned that a strict adherence to the rules ought to be closely monitored.

But the regulations were not immediately clear as the bill authorized the President’s Cabinet to issue all the details, including hiring procedures and qualifications as well as job description and duties for the private officers.

It was understood that the private officers, who would perform duties in a supportive role to regular law enforcement, would not handle immigration aspects as those are handled by specially trained officers authorized to delve into matters such as ascertaining legal status, accepting or rejecting asylum applications, and granting or denying legal status.

But Interior Minister Nicos Nouris, who has pushed for the bill, previously argued there was a “state of emergency” and a need to expedite the hiring of the private officers.

“Their duties will include among others patrolling the green line, inspecting and accompanying irregular migrants, and guarding detention centers,” Nouris said last month.

While immigration police officers from both communities are placed in customs booths along checkpoints on the divided island, the UN buffer zone is not an official hard border between Greek Cypriots in the south and Turkish Cypriots in the north. 

But EU laws permit asylums seekers to seek protection at the Greek Cypriot checkpoints, a process that has been largely halted by the interior ministry.

Nouris has accused Turkey of pushing economic migrants to the Republic of Cyprus in the south through the island’s northern part which is not recognized by any country except Ankara.

The minister, who is known for his tough stance on immigration and criticism towards EU compressive policy efforts, insists that the government was not banning refugees’ legitimate requests for asylum and protection but warned that Cyprus was a small country and had its limits.

An AKEL-backed amendment to the bill that would scrap weapons for the special force, colloquially likened to the 300 Spartans during an ancient battle between Greeks and Persians, was defeated, with MP Aristos Damianou accusing the government of shunning state agencies and favoring private officers over properly-trained members of Cyprus Police.

Damianou criticized what he called the “undoing of an entire asylum service by those in authority because some of the supervisors came from political spheres outside those of the ruling party.”

But DISY MP Nicos Georgiou, who said the officers ought to be armed for reasons of security and deterrence, argued the new law would allow the government to hire staff quickly without political delays and red tape.

“We ought to move away from political pre-election campaigns and instead join forces to deal with immigration, which is a national issue,” Georgiou said.

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