Ersin Tatar, the Prime Minister of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), met with former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith at the Palace of Westminster this morning. The two men are said to have had a very warm meeting that lasted for just over an hour.
Prime Minister Tatar, who is on a three-day visit to London, wanted to personally thank the MP for Chingford and Woodford Green for championing direct flights to Ercan Airport in the TRNC, and trying to assist Turkish Cypriots with other obstacles they face due to the political isolation of the country.
Britain is home to the second largest Turkish Cypriot Diaspora in the world, with an estimated 300,000 living mainly in and around London. An estimated 5,000 are resident in Sir Iain’s constituency, helping the veteran Tory politician to become better acquainted with the issues affecting North Cyprus and, responding to requests from his constituents, become a vocal champion of Turkish Cypriot rights.
Currently, only Turkey flies fly direct to North Cyprus, with all flights from elsewhere needing to touch down in Turkey first.
To compound the situation, in June 2017 the UK imposed a new disembarkation rule on all flights travelling from Lefkoşa to Britain. The measure, which the British Government claims is due to “security concerns” about Ercan Airport, means that instead of remaining on the plane when it arrives in Turkey, passengers must disembark with their luggage, go through a new security check and then board another aircraft for their final destination to London.
The security restriction has added time, cost and huge inconvenience to travellers from North Cyprus, especially the elderly, young families and those with mobility issues.
Both Pegasus Airlines – the leading carrier between Britain and North Cyprus – and TRNC tour operators have all reported significant drops in passengers. One major travel firm told T-VINE that twenty percent of their customers had opted to travel to and from the island via airports in South Cyprus.
Sir Iain has been working closely with his local constituents and the Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations in Britain (CTCA UK) in trying to overturn the disembarkation measure.
In October 2017, he led a delegation of British Turkish Cypriots to meet with Transport Minister Chris Grayling to discuss the problem. Sir Iain also had several meetings with Boris Johnson, then the Foreign Minister.
The British authorities maintain the TRNC must first implement the recommendations of a security audit of Ercan Airport detailed in a report carried out by an internationally approved airport security firm. The report identified a range of issues, including out-of-date scanners and insufficient security personnel.
A new Ercan Airport is due to open later this year. TRNC officials say high-level security features have been built into the new terminal building and outer-lying areas, which adhere to international security standards.