We are here today, as VOIS Cyprus and fellow representatives from other international student bodies as well as our allies: Queer Cyprus, Refugee Rights Association, Famagusta Youth Initiative, and others. to highlight and explain to everyone, what issues international students have been facing. Some of these issues have been going on for years, and some of which have started and have been exacerbated recently due to the impact of the pandemic and decisions that have been made by the authorities, touching the lives of many international students in the TRNC. As of today, 3rd of September 2021, it has been around 20 days since the Ministry of Health announced that students from dark red and grey colored country categories can enter Northern Cyprus and quarantine in “central quarantine”. Although since then, a new announcement has been made that changed this and stated that students from dark red and grey countries can enter and home quarantine as long as they have an address, we are still suffering from that decision until today. The central quarantine announcement never came from any university, which is a problem we have suffered with for a long time, because the universities are meant to be the 1st and direct line of contact with international students. Yet many announcements are only made on websites and social medias of governmental body that international students do not know. The announcement was also incredibly vague, with no indication whatsoever to what, or where, or how much this central quarantine is, which we later learned costs 5,400 TL. Nonetheless, since then, hundreds of international students have come and are coming into the island. Because the information is vague, and not published widely on the proper channels such as universities, many students who came were not even aware of such a policy even, and had to be deported back from Ercan, often losing the tuition fees they paid and the price of their tickets. Not only are the students not informed, but in fact even the airports and airlines are not! Till today, even after an announcement has been made officially that students coming from dark red and grey countries can do home quarantine, we still receive reports of airlines asking for the payment of central quarantine fee to board the airplane. Then we have the problem of the treatment of students at Ercan airport by immigration officers, and the conditions they have to deal with. When students are not able to pay, or need sometime to process the bank transfer, they are put in a small jail cell with others, lacking any sort of safety procedures, for 10 hours sometimes, with poor food, and sometimes, ill treatment. After the entry of the student, in case they can pay, more problems arise unfortunately. The conditions of the quarantine in many cases are horrible. Students receive poor food, not enough to sustain them, in some cases students are asked to pay for their own water! And in cases where a student has a chronic illness, needing special medication or high-quality food, it is not provided to them. Students are also put in pairs inside rooms, completely negating the point of a quarantine. We have conducted a survey recently on this issue of quarantine, and until today since the 15th of August, 106 out of those who filled our survey paid for and entered central quarantine, many of them sharing with us what sort of experiences they went through, and many of those experiences are available in our social media. 13 of those who entered central quarantine have in fact entered recently after we were told that students from dark red and grey countries can enter as long as they have an address. In another survey we recently conducted with 614 respondents, 85.9% would prefer a hybrid or online mode of education, while 14% would prefer a face-to-face mode of education. Those who answered online, the vast majority had reasons concerning their safety, as well as financial reasons, and some stating that they cannot travel because they have COVID or are recovering from it, while others said their countries do not allow them to travel, what plans are put in place for those students? We have met the responsible bodies regarding this, and they have promised us a new system, improvements, and betterment, but we have seen nothing yet. Yes, the central quarantine policy according to the Ministry of Transport have been removed, and students from all categories can now quarantine at home, but this is not reflected in reality, we are still receiving tens of inboxes daily from students being asked by airlines to pay for central quarantine. Why is it so hard, if this decision has been taken, to inform the airlines in one phone call? Or at least establish a hotline from the universities and government for students to call, why have immigration officers in Ercan not been informed of this? All of this aside, a new semester is starting very soon. A governmental decision has been made that higher education next semester starts officially face-to-face in all universities. Why has this decisions only been announced publicly, in English, this week? Why have universities waited until the end of August and beginning of September, where the resumption of education is weeks away, to announce this? How are students supposed to make plans for traveling, accommodation, expenses in such a short notice? What plans and steps have been taken to ensure the safety of students during face-to-face education? Are the classrooms large enough? Who will be supervising what the universities do? If there is another outbreak, does the healthcare system have the capacity to handle it? Are there enough beds? Regarding the decision, we wonder: Has the safety of international students arriving into the island been put as a priority? Why have those safety plans not been published for all students to see? We are told that random PCR tests will be done alongside social distancing, inform everyone of this! Their families are concerned, their families are worried what are they sending their children to, they have a right to know! Taking history into account, we know how many of those plans and decisions turned out to be, walk into any public place right now, do you see people wearing masks? Do you expect those decisions to be followed as the semester progresses? Do all universities have the necessary capacities and resources to monitor and ensure the implementation of any safety plan put in place? Perhaps social distancing will be followed in class, what about outside of it? What about in public transport? Will inspections from the Ministry of Health actually take place? What we are concerned about, is the fact that international students will be brought here, forced to come here because of face-to-face education, and then when another wave or breakout happens, they will be left all alone, devastated physically, mentally, and financially, and if such a thing happens, we place responsibility over those international students directly on the government and the bodies responsible. That is why we advocate instead for a hybrid system, in which students are not forced to travel. In which they have freedom of choice and can bear the consequences of their decisions. Let us also not forget how many students were affected by the pandemic and the global financial crisis in the past year, many lost family members, many have had COVID, and many have lost their sources of income and finance. So how do you expect to force them to travel under these unfavourable circumstances? At the bare minimum, we implore that you waiver the exorbitant fines of late registration and payment and the semester freezing fines for the upcoming semester. The other issues that have plagued us for years, as international students in the TRNC include: • • • ● ● •
Housing and university agents being allowed to roam freely with no supervision, with many of them scamming students and directly leading them into human trafficking, Malpractice and poor quality of many universities, in many cases directly lying to students about what facilities they have, the level of English in the university, and the quality of teaching, A severe lack of communication, information, and transparency from all bodies alike. No direct information is passed to international students on matters concerning them, and if it is passed, it is mostly in Turkish. No convincing campaigns that encourage them to take vaccines or to educate them on it, no campaigns to tackle xenophobic and racist attitudes that are hostile to them. Lack of supervision and regulation on the housing sector in which students participate in. Students do not know where to complain to, what are their rights as tenants. Many landlords are racist, xenophobic, or participate in scamming, and students do not know where to go, and if they go to the police they are not listened to. Working conditions of international students are also overlooked. Many employers do not give their student workers work permits, many employers hire students to work in construction sites which is illegal, many students suffer from pay cuts and lack of payments from their employers, and many students work without contracts and below minimum wage, and students do not get informed on their rights as workers when they come or where to go to complain. And much more. So, for the situation will improve? How long will students be told not to worry? how long? How long will promises be made but unkept? How long will we be told that We reiterate our demands:
• Release a detailed announcement on the situation of the quarantine, clarifying what happens to new students, and old ones, where they will stay, how much will they pay, if any. And if they are staying at home, what if they have roommates? The statement must clarify all details and must be published on universities and all bodies relevant to students.
• Refund all the students who have already been forced to pay for the central quarantine.
• Publish a very detailed plan on the safety procedures of face-to-face education, what will the steps be taken to make sure it is viable and safe, and what measures are in place to protect students in case another breakout happens and it is reverted back to online.
• Translate the Guvende Kal contracts that students sign when putting the bracelet on into English.
• Put more efforts into translating announcements, information and communications that matter to international students into English when publishing them.
• Publish a list of all verified agents working with universities on their websites and announce it to students, so that they know which ones to work with, and ensure laws are established and practiced to persecute agents who violate and scam students.
• Establish a joint committee that has all the relevant bodies and authorities alongside VOIS Cyprus to discuss and solve international student’s issues and make their discussion and solution in the future easier. We come here in peace and not animosity, and we understand the strong financial difficulties the country is going through, and we would like to help grow it back and strengthen it together with everyone in consideration. We do not take it for granted that all these decisions will come at the expense of resources by the relevant authorities to put the right checks and procedures in place, but all we seek however, is that international students are viewed with empathy, and for them not to be marginalized or put as a last priority, especially regarding decisions that affect them. We hope that you consider international students as your kids and imagine them to be so. We hope for a quick resolution and progress to happen on the issues that we have stated as soon as possible. Students’ wellbeing depend on this.
Stay safe by staying home #COVID19 #EvdeKal #StayHome