The interior minister says joint patrols in downtown Nicosia are meant to prevent crime and combat illegal migration, while also clarifying that the two are not necessarily connected to each other.
Newly-appointed Interior Minister Nikos Nouris told a state radio on Monday that joint patrols by the military and police in old Nicosia were meant to address a number of problems.
Nouris said the government was trying to achieve two objectives with joint patrols by members of the National Guard and law enforcement officers in the capital. The first aim is to instil a sense of security among members of the public in “sensitive areas” within the walled city, and second, to combat illegal immigration, said the minister.
“In this area, we have seen in the last few weeks unprecedented events taking place in the Republic of Cyprus, such as clashes between foreigners and immigrants,” Nouris said.
The second objective, according to the minister, is to assist the state in becoming more effective in fighting illegal immigration along the Green Line, which separates north and south along the divided island.
Military personnel are not authorized to arrest or even search private citizens, but police officers can ask to review documents if they suspect a crime has been committed
“Our aim is not to militarize the capital, but we want to send out a message regarding security,” Nouris said.
Police and military officers began foot patrols recently along the buffer zone including Nicosia's walled city on a 24-hour basis, while members of the SWAT team are patrolling the capital's downtown in the afternoons and during evening hours at least until the end of January.
There were mixed reactions over the patrols, with some concerned citizens taking to social media to criticize move and describing it as an assault on freedom. But others supported the decision, including shopkeepers in the area who were reportedly in favour of stronger police presence to prevent crime, according to local media.
“The reason for having joint patrols by the National Guard and the Police is obvious,” said Nouris, adding that soldiers cannot check private documents and this is why law enforcement got involved.
Military personnel are not authorized to arrest or even search private citizens, while police officers can ask to review documents if they suspect a crime has been committed.
While random checks of individuals are not permitted according to the Constitution, there can be exceptions on national security grounds with the administration approving patrols by special officers on SWAT teams who can apprehend suspected terrorists or arrest individuals who pose a threat to public safety.
The minister also said the government would push for new measures meant to cut down on the time asylum applications take to be adjudicated, adding that that the Migration office has been flooded with pending cases.
The administration is also in consultations with the Supreme Court and the Legal Services Department in an effort to discuss the implementation of measures.
“We don’t want people to remain in our country indefinitely while their cases are pending,” Nouris said.
The minister also clarified that the decisions taken involved different ministries and agencies, clarifying that he did “not wish to draw connections between crime and illegal migration but the situation must be addressed without delay.”
Joint patrols will be reviewed and evaluated by late January, according to the minister.