The BBC ran a story on Wednesday on the exploitation of international students in the occupied north.
The story follows Lovli, a Nigerian student “in her twenties” who left her husband and two children around two years ago to come study in Cyprus.
Lovli says that she was introduced to the prospect of studying abroad with low fees (€1,300 a year), as well as finding a job to help her family back home by a Nigerian friend of her husband who works as an agent for “universities” in the occupied north.
According to the BBC, the number of higher education institutions in the occupied north rose from six to 30 between 2011-2019. The student population is estimated to be around 120,000.
However, “Lovli’s life here has not lived up to the dream she was sold,” Ivana Davidovic of the BBC writes.
Lovli says that when she arrived, she thought she would pay for the full amount of her fees with her savings. Later though, she found that they only covered the first instalment.
“She would now need to earn $1,000 a month to cover her expenses, but she can only get unregulated low-paid jobs like cleaning and cooking, and is working long hours seven days a week.” She does not have any savings to help her family back home now and she cannot afford a ticket back.
“For many people like her, Northern Cyprus was not really about education, but about a promise of a chance to work in Europe and forge a better life for her and her family. And that is not happening,” Davidovic writes.
In fact, Chigozie Obioma, a Nigerian writer, recently made the shortlist for the 2019 Man Booker Prize for his novel “An Orchestra of Minorities” which tells the story of a Nigerian poultry farmer who travels to the occupied north, where he is confronted by racism and scammed by corrupt middlemen.
The book is based on Obioma’s own experiences of studying in the occupied north. He told the Guardian that what inspired him was the story of his friend Jay, who was found dead at the bottom of a lift shaft in Cyprus after having his tuition funds embezzled by fixers.
Loan sharks and prostitution
According to Lovli, there are many African and Asian students in the occupied north who find themselves in misery.
A Zimbabwean pastor, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the BBC that many of the students fall prey to loan sharks. When payback time comes, things “can get ugly… and police say they cannot intervene,” he said.
Many female students have told him they have been forced to pay back their debts “with sexual favours”. He claims he saved one woman from a house where she had been kept for months and forced into prostitution.
Many students become “conditioned” to this kind of life and they are still on the island, he said.
Students from Africa and Asia can only go to the occupied north via Turkey. When they arrive they are forbidden to cross to the Republic of Cyprus.
As the north is recognised as an independent state only by Turkey, a degree from there has to be accredited by local licensing body Yodak, and by Turkish authorities, in order to have any global appeal.
“There is the risk that their degrees are seen as worthless,” Davidovic writes.
According to the BBC, “labour minister” Zeki Celer has launched a Facebook name-and-shame campaign targeting businesses that exploit foreign students and promises protection for those who report abuse.
However, changes are coming at a slow pace, the Zimbabwean pastor tells the BBC.
“If you’re going to send your child here, make sure you have a solid financial plan. Don’t send them thinking they’re going to greener pastures.”
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