COVID19: Turkish Cypriots cross over but can’t return home

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A small group of Turkish Cypriots workers crossed into the Cyprus Republic on Tuesday, despite authorities in the Turkish occupied north warning they will not be allowed back until the end of the month.

Around 30 Turkish Cypriots were expected to cross over, as that was the number of people requesting to cross from the north who had undergone a coronavirus test as required by the Cyprus government.

Cyprus police sources told the Financial Mirror that 12 Turkish Cypriots had crossed over on Tuesday from Nicosia’s Ayios Dhometios checkpoint.

They were the first to cross since COVID-19 lockdown measures in mid-March.

According to a Cyprus News Agency report, some of them will be sleeping in their cars while others will stay in places provided for by their employers.

Some Turkish Cypriots showed CNA their cars packed with stuff including bedding and cooking pots.

On Monday, the government partially relaxed restrictions on crossings, allowing certain categories of people entry based on an agreement between President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish leader Mustafa Akinci.

The Turkish Cypriots who crossed over have tested negative for coronavirus.

According to Turkish Cypriot media, they signed a form in the north agreeing that if they returned before the end of the month, they face quarantine for 14 days.

Turkish Cypriot ‘deputy prime minister’ Kudret Ozersay said on Sunday that the authorities in the north had decided to facilitate some of the people who work in the south.

He confirmed that 30 workers had already undergone the COVID-19 test, noting that these people were advised not to return until 1 July.

“These workers, however, would have to remain in the south until the mandatory 14-day quarantine rule in the north is lifted on July 1,” said Ozersay.

During the weekend, the Turkish Cypriot coalition leader Ersin Tatar, appeared adamant on not relaxing measures at crossing points as it posed a threat to the “wellbeing of the Turkish Cypriot people and sacrifices they made to contain the spread of the virus”.

Akinci on Friday called on the Turkish Cypriot ruling coalition to relax restrictions on free movement at the crossing points.

Anastasiades and Akinci agreed on 21 May to open crossing points for motor vehicle traffic on 8 June.

It applies to Turkish Cypriots working or studying in the Republic, or people receiving cancer treatment or have a hospital appointment.

The same applies to enclaved Greek Cypriots or Maronites who reside permanently in the Turkish-occupied areas of Cyprus.

Entry will also be allowed for Turkish Cypriot school students crossing via bus at Ledra Palace, Nicosia.

Meanwhile, both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot commerce chambers have called for the reopening of the crossing points along the divide.

The Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce issued a joint statement.

“Taking into consideration the much-improved situation in the country concerning the Covid-19 pandemic, both wish to express their support for the reopening of crossing points which could help improve the economic situation in both communities,” said the statement.

“The two Chambers recall the need to enhance economic co-operation on the island and increase the volume of intercommunal trade to maximize the full economic potential of both communities,” it added.

Restrictions on crossings were introduced on 28 February when the Republic of Cyprus decided to suspend the operation of four crossing points (Ledra Street, Astromeritis, Lefka and Dherynia), as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

Turkish Cypriot authorities then shut all crossing points from mid-March.