The government of ethnically split Cyprus came under fire on Tuesday over a decision to lay razor wire along a section of a UN controlled buffer zone.
It says the move is needed to stem migrant inflows from the island’s breakaway north, but critics say the plan is “ineffective” and only feeds the fear that partition will be cemented, amid a renewed push to resume dormant peace talks.
Crews began laying the razor wire on the southern side of the buffer zone some 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of the capital, Nicosia, earlier this week.
Critics, including the communist-rooted opposition party AKEL, said the move only leaves “huge question marks since it implies the delineation of borders and entrenching our homeland’s division.”
Farmers authorized to cultivate land inside the buffer zone initially voiced some concern over access to their plots, but the government said it would act to ease access.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkish Cypriots in the island’s northern third declared independence nearly a decade later, but only Turkey recognizes it. Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, but only the southern part, where the internationally recognized government is seated, enjoys full benefits.
Cypriot government officials say the country has the highest per-capita number of asylum applications in the European Union. Most of those asylum-seekers cross a porous buffer zone after making their way to the north, often by commercial flights.
AKEL spokesman Stefanos Stefanou acknowledged Cyprus is having to deal with large migrant inflows but insisted that “methods implying borders between states” isn’t the way.
“Nowhere in the world has the migration issue been solved by erecting walls, fences or barbed wire,” said Stefanou. “These are (former US President Donald) Trump’s ideas which this government is obviously copying.”
Other opposition parties chimed in to say the move was very badly timed since it gives fodder to the current Turkish Cypriot leadership and its patron Turkey which want to forgo an agreed-upon federal framework to reunify Cyprus and strike a deal based on two equal states.
Peace group Unite Cyprus Now tweeted that it expected authorities to “spend as much effort on reducing barriers as they do on building them.”
The government defended the move, saying that laying the razor wire is fully in line with European Union regulations governing movement across the buffer zone and that both the EU, U.N. and local authorities had been briefed beforehand.
Government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said no “political or other message” could be derived from the move other than to protect public safety and to obstruct “unchecked migrant inflows that Turkey feeds by design, through our occupied areas.”
Cypriot government authorities have long accused Ankara of actively encouraging migrants to apply for asylum in the south in order to “change the island’s demographic character.”
Koushos said contact between Greek and Turkish Cypriots isn’t impeded since people from either side of the divide cross along nine designated crossing points.
Many of those crossing points currently remain closed because of coronavirus restrictions.