From the day the World Health Organization declared covid-19 a pandemic in 2020, we knew almost straight away that our lives were never going to be the same. In North Cyprus, it began with a complete lockdown; schools, restaurants, gyms and places of worship closed altogether, while supermarkets that sell essentials continued operating under strict measures. At first, most people were reluctant or even unwilling to accept what was dubbed the ’new normal’, but as the daily cases of the virus disconcertingly increased and a number of deaths were reported, it was clear that we had to accept our new way of life albeit with a pinch of salt. From then on everybody understood pretty quickly that the measures taken by the government were for the benefit of the whole community.
This new way of life brought with it new challenges for everybody, including international students. From dawn to dusk, we sat in our dorm rooms and apartments, worrying about our education which had been brought to an abrupt halt with no plan for resumption. Those of us who had been working to make ends meet suddenly found themselves incapable meeting our needs. Others whose parents were facing lay-offs in their home countries found themselves unable to finish their dormitory payments or tuition fees installments. Soon across the island, however, universities began offering online education. Food relief programs began to distribute food amongst international students in need. At VOIS Cyprus we began our own Food Relief Program. At last the sense of despondency that had reigned since the outbreak of covid-19 seemed to disappear.
It wasn’t long though until the lockdown would highlight the broader issues faced by international students. The then prime minister pronounced chilling words, stating that the covid-19 situation was an opportunity to “clean out” African students, rather than help support them during the time of difficulty. Some landlords evicted students for late payment of rents, with utter disregard for the situation the whole world was experiencing, while employers withheld previous weeks salaries from their workers. Moreover, as anxiety, loneliness and a general sense of helplessness heightened due to lockdown, the lack of mental health support for international students was once again brought to the fore.
This recent lockdown has once more posed similar challenges as the first, and although as an organization that speaks for international students we have been working to alert the authorities on the plights of students on the island and drive them to act on them, there is still a long way to go. The Black Lives Matter marches we organized at some university campuses pointed out that the prejudices we have now come to consider as archaic still exist and they affect students in the TRNC, did not eliminate racism. Despite our efforts to create an online safe space for international students to share mental health and gender violence experiences, there is still a deficiency of qualified and English speaking counsellors and mental health experts on college campuses, and many fellow students who fall victim to gender based violence are not believed by law enforcement institutions thus encouraging perpetrators to carry on their crimes with impunity. Landlords still exploits renters and employers are mistreated in their workplaces. It seems that now more than ever, an organization live VOIS Cyprus is needed.
There needs to be long term solutions for the problems international students face in the TRNC. With commitment and effort from all international students we can continue to push universities and the local government to hear our cries pleas and act on them. Day by day, voice by voice.
Stay safe by staying home #COVID19 #EvdeKal #StayHome