The installation of barbed wire along the Green Line in rural Nicosia to prevent irregular migration from the north has caused concern among residents, community leaders said on Monday.
The government is currently erecting the barbed wire, set to cover areas along the buffer zone near Astromeritis, Peristerona and Akaki, but local farmers are concerned that their livelihoods may be at risk.
“There have to be measures on the migration issue because there are many ‘holes’ and many illegal migrants frequently cross over from the north, so the people understand that efforts are being made to cut down on the illegal migration flows… but we have to make sure that it does not end up causing problems for our own residents,” Astromeritis community leader Aris Constantinou told the Cyprus Mail.
He said many from the village live, work and have fields in the buffer zone – and while there is talk of gates being installed to grant farmers access, much of it remains unclear.
“How will they be managed, who will open them, close them, for whom and when?” Constantinou asked.
Installation of the barbed wire has so far only taken place in and around Astromeritis but is set to stretch along to the old Nicosia airport – for a length of about 11km.
It understood that two kilometres of barbed wire were installed from Tuesday to Friday of last week.
The move drew strong condemnation from main opposition party Akel, which said on Monday that it sends the wrong message and will also be ineffective in stemming irregular migration from the north – claiming that nowhere in the world has the issue been effectively dealt with by erecting walls and fences.
The party also called in to question whether the rural communities were even consulted during the planning process, as many of them are now expressing strong concerns.
As for the irregular migration flows, Constantinou said that in the last fifteen days about 25 people have “turned up” and the situation is similar in Peristerona and Akaki.
Community leader of Akaki Giannakis Hadjigiannis shared Constantinou’s concerns: “My opinion is that the conditions [on migration] have to be improved but at the same time there has to be easy access for the farmers to the fields.”
Concerns were also expressed over whether the move signals the “abandonment” of certain areas near the buffer zone.
On Monday, Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said “there is absolutely no intention to abandon the buffer zone and neither does the placement constitute a border demarcation for the Republic.
“There will be all the support necessary for our farmers,” he added.
The interior ministry said later in the day, in response to Akel’s criticism that the installation of barbed wire intends to combat illegal immigration of third-country nationals and prevent threats to public safety, as per Cyprus’ obligations according to the Green Line Regulation.
The regulation provides that the control and effective surveillance of the entire length of the Green Line is an obligation of the government to prevent the illegal entry of third-country nationals who do not have a residence permit or a valid travel document, the ministry said.
“All our actions are carried out in consultation with the local authorities in order to continue the facilities provided to our farmers, but also the residents of remote areas,” it added.
Both the EU, the UN and several ambassadors have already been informed of the exercise of this sovereign right which does not in any way imply acceptance of fait accompli, it said. This was in response to Akel’s statement that this action “refers to the demarcation of the border of the Republic of Cyprus.”
“We are defending our country against illegal immigration and the methods that Turkey is plotting to hit the Republic of Cyprus once again,” the ministry said.
Nouris was in Samos on Monday to meet Greece’s Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi.
The meeting comes as Cyprus is facing a large flow of irregular migration over the past couple of years – largely due to a route involving flights from Turkey to the north which then lead to crossings across the Green Line into the Republic.
Irregular migrants throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia often book flights to Turkey from their country of origin, while others arrive by boat.
This has led Cyprus, as the government says, to having the highest number of asylum applications within the EU in proportion to its population for the fourth year in a row.