My experience at Ercan Airport- Zim student laments

The Ercan airport is well known for its friendly atmosphere and easy going immigration officers. It is such a homely place that embraces visitors with impeccable warm hospitality. 

The Ercan airport is a true mirror of the peaceful but stunning island of Cyprus with a rich cultural heritage. It is a democratic republic with a thriving economy dominated by the service sector. Northern Cyprus tourism industry is infused with eco-tourism, a vibrant night life, entertainment, and gorgeous hotels. It is brochure perfect. Most importantly it is a home to about 25 Universities which attracts a constant stream of foreign students across the globe and mostly Africa.

The morning of early September VK packed his bag excitedly in a haste to catch his flight back home to Zimbabwe. He had been a student at the Near East University in Northern Cyprus for 4 years and graduated with a Cum Laud Degree in Psychology. Fist degree bagged, the world was his oyster. After graduating he enrolled for his master’s program at the University of West Scotland (Cyprus Campus). But on this early September morning, he was going home for the first time after close to five years. He was sinking in a wormhole of home sickness that he arrived at a decision to visit home. Beside himself with excitement he literally skipped to the airport that morning and checked in. 

Something in the air was off; the usual warm Ercan airport was a tad bit nippy. VK did not notice anything as he was too consumed with the hype of going home, ear- phones stuck in and blasting P. Diddy “I am Coming Home. ‘’ The flight with Atlas Jet airline was quicker than he had anticipated as they descended in Istanbul, Turkey within an hour from take off. Istanbul airport was a hive of activities; people walking in different directions, an elderly Turkish lady sat on a springy couch her face buried in a book. One Nigerian man tore across the lobby his dashiki flapping behind him, a tear-stained toddler stood on the stainless-steel benches looking lost and abandoned. A Muslim family of 6, power-strode without breaking a sweat to the check-in counters. VK smiled as he walked briskly to his connecting flight with Turkish airlines to Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, en-route to OR Tambo airport, Johannesburg and his final destination RG Mugabe airport in Harare.

VK arrived at the capital of Zimbabwe the following day at 8 pm; jet lagged but glad to be back home, he went down on his knees and kissed the ground. There is no place like home. VK had 3 weeks to be with his family and recuperate before going back to Cyprus to resume classes. It was the best 3 weeks well spent and surrounded by family; he was a little doleful at returning back to Cyprus. At the Airport he sniffed back a tear and waved at his family for the last time before disappearing in the crowd at the check-in foyer. Since he had a return ticket, he was using the same route to go back to Turkey. Sometimes in life you think at this moment a premonition would have been great or maybe a high sensory for bad auspice. A mother’s prayer and well wishes could be enough for a lurking dark force. VK waded into the sea of unknown but driven by a greater force, he reclined his seat and knocked out from exhaustion.

He arrived at the Ercan Airport a bit sluggish and  stiff necked from sleeping for the entire trip. A low sigh escaped from his lips as the thought of going back on campus to begin the registration process for the new semester. He greeted the immigration officer in Turkish, ‘’Iyi Isamlar” and smiled at her as she took his passport. She barely looked at him and nodded at the immigration police. The two burly officers grabbed VK by the elbows and literary dragged him from check-out teller. Confused and shocked, reeling in a blur, he asked, ‘’what’s happening?’’ They didn’t bother to respond but instead shoved him in the poorly ventilated holding-cells. VK fell on a small springy bunk a bed, his mind still trying to get grasp of what had just happened.  He looked around the holding cell and they were other people who didn’t bother to acknowledge his presence. 

Another group of people huddled on the only small window, with their cell phones hanging out through the iron bars of the window in a bid to catch a WiFi connection. A young boy on the next bunk sat there staring at the floor, obviously relieving in a sombre doomsday mode. VK stood up, walked to the door, he peeked through the peephole (This had to be a joke, did someone sneak drugs in his luggage?). He spotted one of the immigrant officers with his back at the door. The first thought that sprang in his mind was to bang the door for his attention, which he did. He peeked again through the peep hole and the energy reverberated to the other side of the door when it dawned to him that he was being ignored. 

He could see the beefy bottom of the officer, pinched in a tight knot. This was bad. ‘’Stop banging the door, they don’t care”, doomsday boy said with a hoarse voice that seemingly had seen its strain from a night of crying. “Why are you here?’’,  VK moved closer to the boy and was  low key shocked upon realizing that  he was probably  16/17 years old. Stout dark boy with a heavy Nigerian accent. “Most of the people in here don’t really know why they are here, but I was detained because I couldn’t produced my original certificates which were in my main luggage.’’ It was then; it hit him that he had been detained.

There is nothing as terrifying as being detained without explanation or reason. That night VK slept on a grumbling stomach, a small bunk bed and suddenly the future seemed inevitably bleak. He searched his mind for a reason why he would be detained with such aggressiveness.  

His student visa was still valid, further more he had a Turkish visa. Someone had planted drugs in his bag, it only made sense. He managed to force his arm through the iron bars of the window as he watched the message he sent to the family WhatsApp group double-tick. It read: I have been detained at the Ercan Airport. He hardly slept, listening attentively to the inmates who shared their stories of detention.  One Swedish couple had been detained because they had no proof of hotel bookings for their Cyprus holiday. 

It sounded petty because obviously they intended to book upon arrival until they found themselves in the holding rooms. A rich Turkish merchant who wanted to purchase property in Cyprus was held simply because they didn’t believe that were his true intentions for travelling to the island. They were about 20 people in that holding cell and most of them had no idea why they were in there. Some had been there for days without being awarded with a chance to learn of their status, surviving on one meal per day of plain rice and a bland under cooked piece of chicken. At dawn break 4am, VK was startled awake by the iron door which creaked like someone breaking wind at an old people’s home. Shaking off sleep reverie he rushed to the door and tried to inquire from the immigrant officer about this hazy detention. He blatantly ignored him, while calling out names of three people, whom he left with before banging the door in VKs face. He stood there feeling defeated, is this not gross violation of human rights? Held against your will without reason, denied entry, man handling which could easily translate to aggravated assault.

One Pakistanian student had been detained because of some of vague penalties from 2014. He kept explaining that he had the money in his pocket and was prepared to pay. Food came in tiny bowls; the Pakistanian took this opportunity to plead his case and he took out bundles of money that he showed the officer who came with food but he did not anticipate what was to come, not in his wildest dreams. Not on the Ercan International Airport. The blow was firm and landed straight on his nose with a crunch. He staggered back, more astonished than hurt. The officer banged the door followed by a click locking them in. Behind that door, stood people of different nationalities, shocked beyond words. They looked at each in dead silence and intense telepathy of their fear. Nigerian doomsday boy began to sob.

Meanwhile, back in Zimbabwe VK’s family had contacted people in Cyprus to assist and liaise with immigration at the Ercan airport. A pastor, friends and student reps rendezvoused at the airport and were told a letter was needed from his previous University to confirm that he was a student there in 2016. The letter came in hours which was thrown on the floor before rudely dismissing the student reps. They did not look at the letter nor address the next move concerning VK’s release. VKs Pastor tried her hand in getting at the bottom of it all, only to be told that the University of West Scotland was not even real. Baffling does not even begin to explain this madness. A Cypriot lawyer had been contacted and he promised to show up the following morning. It was at 6.30 pm that the door opened again, VK and doomsday boy’s names were called out. Relief washed over the two boys as they were ushered out of the holding cell, blinking and shielding their eyes from the bright airport lights like cavemen.  Their bags from main luggage, unceremoniously wheeled in a carrier cart, without hesitating doomsday boy rushed to a suitcase and fetched out a folder, he waved it in the air screaming, ‘’These are the original certificates you asked for!.’’ Instead he was pushed toward the check-in doors and handed a piece of paper that had a flight itinerary to Nigeria, stamped with bold letters. DEPORTED. VK could not close his gaping mouth while reading the paper that was shoved in his hands. It read: Reason for deportation – UNWELCOMED IMMIGRANT. *insert Mr. Krabs meme*

There was no time to ask questions or process all this as they were roughly pushed towards a waiting plane. It attracted a lot of attention from people at the airport; they were treated no better than criminals. It was utter public humiliation. In the plane two boys sat side by side completely befuddled. Doomsday boy started sniffling but VK took his hand and squeezed it, ‘’Not now, be strong.’’ They arrived in Turkey Istanbul; VK was accompanied to a check- out teller, who for the first time in 48 hours smiled at him. She stamped his passport and his heart sank knowing his Turkish Visa had been cancelled. She handed him his passport and said with surprisingly fluent English, ‘’Welcome to Turkey.’’ His Turkish visa saved him from deportation to Zimbabwe. He looked back and saw doomsday boy being led to a grey steel familiar looking door. Holding-cells. They were really taking him back to Nigeria.

He called his friend from Istanbul Airport who picked him up within minutes. He looked at his friend and said,’’ I need a hot plate of food, a good cry and a bath.” It was the most horrendous experience as he looked through the window and the buildings rushing by. All the people at that holding cell had no idea that they were waiting for their flights to be deported back home. Cyprus had shut its borders against foreigners. Whatever dark cloud that is looming over the small northern part of that island. Brace yourselves, because the Ercan Airport immigration police have gone mad.


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