President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, said on Saturday that the government had no choice but to enforce measures for effective controls at crossing points, in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus, particularly when taking into account the composition of the population residing in the Turkish-occupied areas of the island.
Speaking on the margins of an event in Limassol and invited to comment on reactions, following Friday’s Cabinet decision to temporarily suspend the operation of four crossing points, the President said that the government has an obligation to take measures protecting people’s health.
We thought about this very seriously before taking any decisions, President Anastasiades went on, adding that possible political misinterpretations were also taken into account but “there was no other choice for more effective controls, taking into account the composition of the population residing in the occupied area” of Cyprus.
“There are more than three thousand Iranian students and it is well known that Iran is one of the most affected regions. But it is not just the number of students” the President said, pointing to the number of relatives and to other nationalities living in the northern part of the island, besides people from Iran.
Therefore, in order to have more effective control, it was deemed necessary to temporarily apply better checks on incoming and outgoing people.
He said, moreover, that as he also explained to the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akinci, the measure does not intend to protect only the Greek Cypriots, but also the Turkish Cypriot community from those passing through the check points or visiting the Turkish-occupied area.
Asked if Akinci approved the measure, the President said that “it is not a matter whether he accepted or not. In any case we had a friendly discussion.” He went on to say that Akinci preferred not to take these measures or apply controls at external borders, but did not question the concerns raised about the movement of people.
Moreover, the President reiterated that the measure is temporary. In relation to migrants arriving in the Republic of Cyprus, also through the Turkish-occupied areas, he said that the government is taking strict measures. He pointed however to the span of the ceasefire line, which is over 180 klm long, and said that Cyprus needs to receive assistance for the arrivals through the sea.
We are doing everything humanly possible to prevent large flows that will exacerbate an already difficult situation, the President added and said that Cyprus has the largest ratio of asylum seekers in relation to its population, with 3.5% compared to less than 1% elsewhere in the EU.
In cooperation with the EU, we will take measures to accelerate the application procedure for political asylum seekers, he concluded.
Some crossing points may reopen, Koushos says
Government Spokesman Kyriacos Koushos was invited to comment on political reactions regarding the decision to temporarily close four crossing points and said that the decision was taken to protect both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Speaking to CNA, Koushos reiterated that the measure was a temporary one and did not preclude the reopening of one or more crossings, depending on developments.
The decision was taken on the basis of how to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Koushos said and noted that there is no room for any other interpretation, since five crossing points remain open. “The government acts in line with its obligation to protect the citizens of the state” he added.
“We need to stress that the measure is a temporary one and will be in force for a week, without precluding the possibility of reopening one or more crossings, depending on developments” Koushos said.
Asked about reactions by political parties and others for not being informed, Koushos replied that measures were officially announced by the Minister of Health after the Cabinet meeting.
“The European Union, the United Nations, the British Bases were informed about our decisions, while the President of the Republic spoke directly to Akinci to inform him” he added. It is not possible to contact all political parties and other competent bodies, in order to inform them, he went on.
Asked if the decision to close some crossing points is fully justified on the basis of medical and scientific evidence, Koushos said that the decision was based on the data that were available at the moment it was taken, and took into account the capacity, the equipment and the staff available.
The Cabinet decided on Friday to temporarily close four crossing points as a precaution against COVID-19. Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said that the crossing points to remain closed for a week are those of Ledra Street, Astromeritis, Lefka and Deryneia.