Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris has fired back at critics in the north over the south’s decision to install barbwire near the UN buffer zone to halt illegal crossings, blaming the need for a fence on lack of action on the part of Turkish Cypriot authorities.
Nouris has been under criticism this week over a section of razor wire fence in Astromeritis, Nicosia district, along the southern edge of the UN buffer zone between the two communities on the ethnically-split island.
Critics in the south included opposition left party AKEL over the timing and effectiveness of the measure, while local farmers and animal owners also expressed concerns.
The Fire Department has also clarified that they had not been consulted about the installation ahead of time.
The minister says the fence is intended to send a message to human smugglers that they cannot rely on a porous frontier to bring undocumented travelers from north to south.
But following additional criticism from some Turkish Cypriots over the issue, Nouris addressed critics in the north who had accused the minister of putting obstacles to peace talks ahead of a crucial meeting next month in Geneva.
Speaking on Wednesday in Dherynia, Famagusta district, the minister said the government had no intention to add any obstacles “if the Turkish Cypriot side had the situation under control.”
“It would be interesting to hear from some Turkish Cypriot political parties what they are doing to prevent occupier Turkey from systemically channeling illegal migrants in the occupied part of Cyprus and from there on sending them to the free areas through the dividing line,” the minister said.
'It would be interesting to hear from some Turkish Cypriot political parties what they are doing to prevent occupier Turkey from systemically channeling illegal migrants'
Nouris has repeatedly accused Ankara of pushing asylum seekers onto Cyprus to change demographics on the island, saying on Wednesday that 75% of migration flow in the government-controlled south was coming through the buffer zone. The minister maintained that the administration was adhering to provisions within the Green Line regulation, which call for effective control and monitoring of the ceasefire strip that spans the entire length of the island east to west.
The regulation calls for effective surveillance by the Republic of Cyprus all along the dividing line “to discourage people from circumventing checks at the crossing points.”
But Greek Cypriot authorities have often been criticized for taking a tough stance on migration, with Nouris often accused of following policies that prevent legitimate refugees from seeking asylum in the Republic of Cyprus.
While the Regulation secures the right of third-country nationals to cross north and south, it states that they can do so as long as they “possess either a residence permit issued by the Republic of Cyprus or a valid travel document and, if required, a valid visa for the Republic of Cyprus,” while also not representing “a threat to public policy or public security.”
But refugees who arrive in Cyprus often seek illegal entry with reports saying Greek Cypriot officers at checkpoints do not allow asylum seekers to pass through.
The government has been trying to institute new policies including measures that would allow refugees to have their claims adjudicated on the spot, where migration officers would have discretion over denying entry to asylum seekers from third countries if there is a legal basis to turn them away before filing an official asylum application.
Nouris has also been criticized over pushback policies involving undocumented travelers arriving by sea, including Syrian refugees coming from Lebanon.
But local reports said those numbers dropped considerably following an agreement between Lebanon and the Republic of Cyprus as well as new regulations concerning visa applicants through marriage or foreign students who apply for asylum.
“We have reduced the numbers of asylum seekers, whether they involve sham marriages or students who previously attended college, but also arrivals by sea following the bilateral agreement with Lebanon,” the minister said, adding that since last September when the agreement went into effect, arrivals by sea from Lebanon to Cyprus have reached nearly zero.”
Last year, the European Court of Human Rights asked the government of the Republic of Cyprus to answer questions concerning refoulement of undocumented travelers at sea, after the state’s coast guard blocked undocumented travelers on boats, including Syrian refugees, and sent them back to Lebanon with marine police escort.
Representatives of local colleges also spoke out last year saying they understood there could be no justification for internationals filing for asylum with no basis, while pointing out that many were “being urged” to apply on the notion that foreign students who file for asylum will be able to find employers without restrictions or red tape.
Critics have accused the government of taking tough measures while failing to propose a comprehensive or balanced approach towards immigration, saying regulations including signed declarations during school applications were targeting students but not agents who often mislead them and lure them to the island on false promises.