UNFICYP said Thursday it stands ready to “facilitate and support” disscussions between the two sides of the divided island once efforts begin for the easing of restrictions at crossing points.
Speaking to the Cyprus News Agency, UNFICYP spokesperson Aleem Siddique said ““we hope that both sides will continue to cooperate closely as they address the public health emergency across the island,” a cooperation which “includes coordinating their efforts to ease restrictions at the crossing points when the situation allows.”
“UNFICYP stands ready to facilitate and support both sides with these efforts,” Siddique added.
Though the island’s first coronavirus cases appeared in the south on March 9, the government of the Republic had already moved to suspend the operation of four out of a total of nine Buffer Zone crossings on February 28, those at Ledras Street, Astromeritis, Lefka and Dherynia, citing precautions against the spread of the virus.
The move had initially received opposition from both sides, with protests taking place at the Ledra Street crossing demanding that the checkpoints are re-opened and the coronavirus crisis dealt is with collectively rather than by cutting off the two communities.
Movement across all checkpoints was then prohibited by the government in the north on April 11.
A group of around 2,000 Turkish Cypriots living in the north but working in the south have in recent days issued a call to authorities on both sides to allow them to cross so that they can return to work.
A letter was also addressed to UNFICYP Chief of Mission Elizabeth Spehar, seeking her intervention in pushing forward their demand.
The group, who have called themselves ‘those who work in the south’ said that beyond the members of the group which consist primarily of workers, the same demand applies for many students living in the north but attending school in the south.
Though many Turkish Cypriots have been disproportionately affected by the closing of checkpoints, neither side has pinpointed when, or following which conditions, restrictions at crossings will begin to be lifted.
The matter was also painfully absent from the Republic’s lockdown exit roadmap, which pinpointed the expected timeframe of the lifting of each restriction, but failed to refer to the prohibition of movement across checkpoints.
On Wednesday, government spokesman Kyriakos Koushios said the government was willing to discuss allowing Turkish Cypriots who work in the south to cross through checkpoints, but the freedom to do so would also depend on the north lifting its own restrictions.