Iranian dissident caught between rock and hard place in Cyprus limbo

NICOSIA (Reuters) - An Iranian dissident who fled his country fearing arrest has fallen foul of politics and COVID-19 restrictions in ethnically split Cyprus. Since mid-September, Omid Tootian has been living in a small tent in Cyprus's buffer zone, a United Nations-controlled slice of territory carved out after a war split Cyprus in 1974. A musician critical of Teheran, Tootian left Iran for Turkey four years ago

Reuters September 29, 2020 00:10:42 IST
Iranian dissident caught between rock and hard place in Cyprus limbo

Iranian dissident caught between rock and hard place in Cyprus limbo

NICOSIA (Reuters) - An Iranian dissident who fled his country fearing arrest has fallen foul of politics and COVID-19 restrictions in ethnically split Cyprus.

Since mid-September, Omid Tootian has been living in a small tent in Cyprus's buffer zone, a United Nations-controlled slice of territory carved out after a war split Cyprus in 1974.

A musician critical of Teheran, Tootian left Iran for Turkey four years ago. Fearful for his safety in Turkey where he claimed other Iranian dissidents had disappeared, he travelled to northern Cyprus, a statelet recognised only by Ankara. From there, he planned to travel to its internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south.

That is where his plans stalled.

"The police didn't let me in," Tootian, 45, told Reuters, saying officers on the Greek Cypriot side cited restrictions because of COVID-19. "So I got stuck here in between."

'Here' is a slice of territory about 500 metres wide separating opposing sides in central Nicosia, Cyprus's ethnically split capital. The buffer zone, as it is known, fans out east to west, 116 miles (180 kms)long.

Tootian has pitched his tent in the overgrown garden of a home abandoned during the war. Shutters with peeling paint hang off hinges on windows still stacked with sandbags. A building next door housing peace groups has the only visible sign of activity in the area.

The area is named after the Ledra Palace, a hotel on the other side of the road where a British contingent of United Nations peacekeepers stays.

After 29 years of being sealed shut, it was the first crossing point opened to the two communities in 2003. In February, the coronavirus outbreak effectively sealed it again.

Now only a few people, and overwhelmingly locals, use the corridor. The Greek Cypriot side does not allow non-Cypriots through because of coronavirus restrictions.

But despite having tested negative for COVID-19, Tootian says, he was still turned back four to five times. He says he will not return to the Turkish Cypriot side because he fears he will be deported to Turkey, and from there, back to Iran.

"I have no choice. I will either stay here or they will take me in, there is no other option," Tootian said.

The Cypriot interior ministry, responsible for asylum matters, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, said they had communicated with Cypriot authorities on the need to allow Tootian access to services to apply for international protection, enshrined in national and EU law.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas; additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara and Dubai Newsroom; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date:

TAGS:

also read

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources
| Reuters
World

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources | Reuters

By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States

China's Xi says navy should become world class
| Reuters
World

China's Xi says navy should become world class | Reuters

BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.