After 1974, most of Cyprus’s Greek and Turkish Cypriots have lived separately in northern and southern regions of the island that are currently divided by a UN-controlled buffer zone.
The buffer zone - also called ‘the Green Line’ - extends approximately 180 km across the island. In some parts of old Nicosia it is only a few meters wide, while in other areas it is a few kilometres wide. Its northern and southern limits are the lines where the belligerents stood following the ceasefire of 16 August 1974, as recorded by UNFICYP.
In the eastern part of the island, the buffer zone is interrupted by the British Sovereign Base Area of Dhekelia, where the UN does not operate. Another area the UN does not control is Varosha, the former resort town near Famagusta, now under the control of the Turkish military.
In line with UNFICYP’s mandate to work toward a return to normal conditions, many parts of the buffer zone are farmed and/or inhabited. There are several villages or special areas (called Civil Use Areas) within the Buffer Zone, where more than 10,000 people live and/or work. Civilians may enter these areas freely. Elsewhere in the buffer zone, civilian movement or activity requires specific authorization from UNFICYP. Located in the eastern region of the buffer zone, Pyla is the only village where Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots live side-by-side.
Other areas are largely untouched by human activity. Remnants of old villages, shops and other reminders of lives once lived are scattered throughout the buffer zone.
The buffer zone has remained a haven for flora and fauna, thriving on the near absence of hunters and most other human interference. UNFICYP pays careful attention to preservation of the natural environment, and in particular to the prevention of unlawful dumping of rubbish in the buffer zone.
UNFICYP keeps permanent watch over the buffer zone with patrols in vehicles, on foot, on bicycles and by helicopter. Additionally, a highly mobile unit stands ready to respond to emergencies within the buffer zone.
Approximately 1,000 incidents occur within the buffer zone each year, ranging from name-calling to unauthorized use of firearms. Civilian construction is another regular issue; UNFICYP always has to consider security, ownership and operational requirements in its efforts to encourage a return to normal conditions in the buffer zone.
Since April 2003, a number of crossing points have opened up between the north and the south: two in the British Sovereign Base Area at Pergamos and Strovilia, three in Nicosia at Ayios Demetios/Metehan, Ledra Palace and Ledra Street and one west of Nicosia toward the Troodos Mountains, at Astromeritis/Zodhia, and on the western end of the island stands the Pyrgos Limnitis/Yesilirmak.
Two additional crossing points opened simultaneously on 12 November 2018, for the first time in eight years - the eastern Dherynia crossing point and the Lefka/Aplici crossing point.