Interior Minister Nicos Nouris on Monday called for a united front on the government’s decision to erect barriers along the Green Line, aimed at stopping the inflow of irregular migrants from the occupied area.
His call for support was in response to a protest at the weekend by Akaki residents who strongly condemned the government’s policy of putting barbed wire barriers, stretching many kilometres, and metal gates in their communities.
“It is proportionally small in comparison to what the overwhelming majority of the population is feeling at this moment,” he said, referring to issues of public order, safety and demographics.
“It’s not pleasant for anyone but unfortunately it is one of the only measures which will be effective,” he told Sigma.
Government plans to combat illegal entries with an 11km razor wire barrier that is being erected along the buffer zone and would stretch from Astromeritis to the old Nicoosia airport.
Nouris said that he was dismayed at the slow pace at which the barrier is being placed, pointing out that Poland had erected an 186km-long fence along its border with Belarus in just six months. That span is almost identical to the length of the Green Line, at 180km.
Disagreements were respected, he said, but answers have been given to all those who have said that they are troubled by the barrier.
He further reiterated that the buffer zone remains part of the Republic’s territory, and that “whoever lives and works in the buffer zone has the right to come and go whenever they wish – on the basis of the security placed at the gates – so there is no issue of impeding movement”.
“Some will face difficulties, yes, such as the human traffickers who are also amongst those protesting,” he said, adding that: “Unfortunately, some of our compatriots engage in human trafficking, and yes, they will face difficulties.”
Last month, the Cyprus Mail spoke to members of the community who are to be impacted by the barrier, many of whom told us that the policy is riddled with problems and is highly impractical.
But in making the case for the barrier, Nouris cited Greece for “decisively” reducing the migrant flows from Turkey. In 2020 there were 78,000 arrivals which were reduced to 4,000 the following year, in part thanks to the barrier put up in Evros.
But Greece has faced criticism from the EU over its handling of the irregular flows, although Nouris said on Sunday that “I would be happy if we could record similar results in the Republic of Cyprus,” referring to the significantly reduced flows.
“Before the EU points fingers or makes suggestions to a front-line member state facing a problem of this magnitude, it would be good first, in the same indicative way, to address the originator of the problem, which is Turkey,” he added.
Nouris on Monday said that Cyprus has not been reported for such actions, but hit back at such criticism, saying: “What is happening in the Republic today is the trampling of the human rights of the local population.”
“In my view, all these irregular migrants be arriving in such a manner constitutes a trampling of our human rights,” he said.
He conceded that Cyprus has a weakness and that is Turkey’s weaponisation of the irregular migration flows. Nouris has said that about 85 per cent of irregular arrivals crossed through the Green Line and that the number of arrivals was currently so high that efforts to integrate migrants into society was impossible.
Elsewhere, he said that so far this year over 3,000 deportations have been carried out – “a figure higher than that of the previous year’s total”.
“But our means are limited, when there are third countries which in practice refuse to accept their own nationals to return; then you can understand the scale of the issue,” he said.
Asked what happens in such cases, when a nation refuses to allow their own nationals to return, Nouris said: “I’ll put it simply so that everyone can understand, it’s all those people that you see wandering through the streets – despite having their applications rejected.”
He added that the weakness in practically returning those people is real, exacerbated by Cyprus being an island which is not in the Schengen zone.
Nouris said that at a meeting next week he will push for the EU and specifically Brussels to “finally” come up with centralised agreements for returns on part of the bloc as a whole. He explained that, currently, each member state must negotiate its own bilateral deal with countries such as India and Bangladesh, with small nations such as Cyprus having far less bargaining power than others.