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Doubts raised over recruitment of 300 armed officers to monitor buffer zone for irregular migrants

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The razor wire along the buffer zone in astromeritis, which aimed to stop irregular migration

Recognising the need to monitor the buffer zone to avoid the flow of migrants from the north, lawmakers and police on Friday raised questions and serious doubts about plans to recruit 300 contracted police officers to monitor the green line.

The discussion continued during the meeting of the House legal affairs committee with committee chairman, Disy MP Nicos Tornaritis, appealing to the parties to vote as soon as possible on the bill.

Tornaritis noted that the 300 contract staff would also be armed and have increased powers to monitor the 180km long buffer zone as a measure to address the very serious problem of irregular migration and Turkey’s own involvement in, what he described as a hybrid war.

The cost of hiring the extra staff is in the region of €10 million and will be covered by the EU.

Opposition Akel MP Andreas Pashourtides claimed that some of their questions have yet to be answered and serious issues were being raised that touch on the political aspect of the Cyprus problem.

Pashourtides added that questions remained as to whether those in charge of these tasks would have drastic powers and responsibilities, which require special training, which they will not receive due to the short recruitment process.

At the same time, he noted that the buffer zone and its regulation was something that has been created for specific reasons and voiced concerns that introducing armed, untrained citizens from one day to the next to deal with specific incidents, could result in unpleasant outcomes.

But at the same time, he added that Akel recognised that increased migration flows need to be managed and is ready to contribute constructively.

In contrast, far-right Elam’s Sotiris Ioannou accused certain political actors of putting obstacles in the way of promoting the establishment of a special police force to guard the green line to deal with the hybrid warfare from Turkey against Cyprus.

Meanwhile, Depa-Cooperation’s Alekos Tryfonides, said that the surveillance of the buffer zone in an effort to reduce the admission of migrants into to the government-controlled areas was very important, but added that his party had asked for clarifications on the duties, responsibilities and activity that the 300 contracted police officers would have and explanations were given for the plan that exists.

In his statements, police chief, Stelios Papatheodorou, said that the effort to recruit contracted special police officers, in combination with other measures, would contribute to the mitigation of migratory flows coming from the north.

Responding to MPs’ concerns, he said that if the bill was passed, the police had already prepared a five-week training plan, plus certificates for the possession of weapons as is common practice.

The police chief expects the newly contracted staff to be fully capable of handling their duties within a month and a half after receiving proper training.

He added that they will never be alone, but under the supervision of instructors and other members of the police force.

President of the Cyprus Police Association, Kyriakos Charalambous, said that its position regarding contracted special police officers remains the same, and that for permanent needs, permanent positions should be filled.

He expressed his disagreement with the recruitment of 300 special contracted police officers, saying that the 780 vacant posts within the organisation would have to be filled to address the problem of migration.

Adding his tuppence worth to the debate, the president of the police branch of the Equality Union, Nicos Loizides, said the union believes that the project is too risky, and submitted 11 points to the committee for consideration.

Among these 11 points, Loizides warned that the 300 special police should not be armed, since they have not passed psychometric tests.

He added that there was a risk that if the right filtering and screening was not done, the wrong people, and even criminal elements, will enter the police force.

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