To fight the flow of immigrants from the north, the interior ministry decided to install barbed wire along the buffer zone, along an 11km stretch from Astromeritis to Nicosia airport. Many people from third world countries cross into the Republic through the buffer zone in that area and apply for political asylum, their rising numbers creating big problems for the government.
The placing of the barbed wire seems more like an act of desperation than an effective method of stemming the flow of immigrants from the north. The dividing line is 185km long so it is highly unlikely that 11km of barbed wire will stop immigrants from crossing to the Republic. They will either find another point to cross, perhaps east of Nicosia, or head to the buffer zone near Astromeritis with wire-cutters.
It was not a well thought out decision and came under criticism from day one, for practical rather than political reasons. Farmers of the area were denied access to their fields in the buffer zone – only 2km of barbed wire have been installed so far – and, understandably, have made their feelings known. It is as if the government has decided to increase the areas Greek Cypriots would not have access to, perversely diminishing the unoccupied area.
Political parties have also started expressing support for the area’s farmers, pointing out that the government cannot put their livelihood at risk even though it was acknowledged that something had to be done about the arrival of immigrants from the north. Meanwhile Akel noted the political symbolism of putting up barbed wire in the buffer zone, as it indicated “a marking of borders and the deepening of the division of our country.” It was a naïve point, as the division has survived very well for 47 years without any barbed wire in the buffer zone.
The reality is that there is no obvious way for the government to stop the flow of immigrants from the north. People can get through barbed wire. Perhaps the answer would be to increase the number of guard-posts along the buffer zone and staff them with security personnel as there are not enough national guardsmen. But even if this were done, once an immigrant approached a guard-post and sought political asylum, the guard would not be able to turn him away as it would violate EU law.
Stemming the flow of migrants is a difficult task, for which there are no ready solutions. We doubt that installing of barbed wire along the entire dividing line would stop the third world nationals crossing but can understand why the government is giving it a shot – it has no other options.