VOIS-Cyprus leader, Emmanuel Speaks on a whole lots of issues in Cyprus including racism, immigration and university's agents

Leader of the Voice Of International Students In Cyprus, (VOIS), Emmanuel has delivered a long epistle on a whole lots of issues in Northern Cyprus including racism, immigration and university's agents.

Emmanuel in a Facebook post on Monday wrote;

I have been living here for at least 5 years now and to be honest, I have grown so much; as an intellect, as a person, as an activist and as a person in general. I have met some great people and I genuinely love North Cyprus even though I will have to leave sooner than later. It is the love for this place and it’s people that makes me so critical of it/them. And it is this same love that forces me to pen this treatise.

The purpose of this is to highlight many of the issues which need to change if we are to see a more buoyant and socio-economic growth. As someone who has been in several student leadership positions for over 5 years now particularly as head of VOIS Cyprus which represents thousands of foreign students from diverse backgrounds, I can say that I have had a first class observatory position of the many difficulties which students face. I have also seen how progressively the policies adopted by public bodies and the universities do nothing to address these problems, because they are either not well thought-of or have misplaced priorities. Rarely are student organizations consulted before decisions are made, and when they are indeed consulted, their concerns are often ignored. Allow me paint a picture for you, and I hope you really do listen, because honestly, this place is going burst. I speak to students everyday and ma y of them just can’t wait to leave. This is sad, because North Cyprus has so much to offer these students.

I will try my best to be as detailed as possible. Please, read patiently. As you read, tag public officials and your university professors in the comment section.

1) Housing: Where do I start? This is probably one of the prevailing issues facing students. This sector which is completely unregulated, is the perfect environment for massive exploitation of students. Accommodation is really a serious problem. From terrible and dishonest agents to crooked and sneaky house owners and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s start with the dorms within the university. Lots of the affordable dormitories are owned by the universities, but by God the living conditions are apocalyptic - crammed, really old, malfunctioning and seriously a danger to live in. Because these dormitories are really hell-holes, lots of students after a few months or a year move to private dormitories or outside of the school campuses.

The private dormitories Christ! Some of the worst experiences which have been reported to VOIS have come from the private dormitories. To be honest, the practices of these private dormitories are nothing short of criminal. How they are still able to do this year after year is beyond my comprehension. Some of their tactics include misleading new students to sign 1 year contracts by telling them they can pay in installments or leave after 6 months. However, after these contracts are signed and sometimes a month after, they start cutting off electricity and water supply to these students forcing them to pay the whole year’s rent in one go.

We have had numerous cases where dormitory assistants get into student dormitories when they are not around and destroy property so as to prevent these students from claiming for their deposits. During exam weeks, students who owe are locked in their dormitories or their laptops are confiscated by dorm managers unless they pay what they owe or for another semester even if they no longer want to stay in the dorms. It is incredibly mind boggling that when students complain to their university administrators, they are always told that the universities have no jurisdiction over the dormitories which are found within their campuses.
However, the debts the students owe these dorms somehow make it to their school portals. The reverse however is not true, when the dormitories owe deposits, the university has no say in the matter, it is between the student and the dorm. Surely if you are able to transfer these debts into school portals, you should also be able to hold accountable the dormitories when the students do complain. If this is not aiding and abetting in criminal activity, then I don’t know what this is.

Students who choose to live outside of their school campuses are also faced with numerous challenges; house agents who collect rents on behalf of house owners only for the the house owners to show up a few weeks later claiming they don’t know these agents. Yet somehow the agents have access to the rooms. This is so common that it no lonelier is a coincidence. We also have house owners who are frankly cruel to students and try to strongarm them to pay for the next year’s rent even before their contract expires. Also, what is this issue with paying rents yearly. Imagine as a student having to pay your school fees which ranges between 1000-4000 dollars each semester, and having to pay a year’s jouèrent in a go (averagely for a moderate accommodation between 2500-10,000 dollars). And these have to be paid in one go. Added to this you have to put up with house owners who rarely do return deposits and frankly in case of disagreements calls the police (who by the way has no jurisdiction in this as it is a civil matter) to bully the tenant. Some serious regulation needs to be introduced to fix this sector very quickly. It’s terrible.

2) Remarkable ineptitude on the part of the Universities and YODAK.
Really what is this system? First there are some really suspect universities operating with false courses which do not exist. Some of these universities frankly are just money making centres. You see a fabulous website then you visit the university building and there’s absolutely nothing there. This is seriously affecting the quality of education here on he one hand, and in the other hand attracting students whose intentions are not to study. How do you offer courses which do not exist? There’s this university almost on the outskirts of Famagusta. Blood of Jesus! It looks like a warehouse from the 1960s. The ones you see in really old Hollywood pictures/movies.

The more institutionalized universities are also not helping. What is with these extremely high penalties for late school fees payment. I have met an unreasonable amount of students who have flat out dropped out of school because they say they cannot pay these accumulated debts. There was this interesting case where a student dropped out for one semester because he could not afford to pay for that semester. He got a job and saved some money. At the start of the new semester he went to register and realized that the debt had accumulated to almost 10,000 euros (over a couple of months).

Mortgage loans are not even this high. He switched to another university (if you are wondering). Unfortunately he lost come years because he could not get his transcript from his previous university. There’s no winner in such a situation, both the student and the university lost, more so, the student.
What is worse, these universities go abroad to advertise North Cyprus as a place for students to study in serenity and happiness, but is it? What do you as universities do to help students in their daily lives? During orientation week do you prepare students for the years of difficulty they will face? Do you tell them about house contracts? About employment? About drugs? Prostitution? Alcoholism? Working conditions? Police brutality? Violence against female students, racism, etc? No, you don’t.

You promise these students heaven and yet abandon them in hell and to themselves with no guidance and support systems. It’s no wonder many students are resorting to drug abuse, alcoholism and abusive relationships as the only resort to easing their pain. Do you notice the number of suicides is on the increase? The number if drug related deaths as well? The level of theft and prostitution? These are all as a result of university negligence. A lot of these students are very young and have never been outside of the sphere of influence of their families, abandoning them to themselves is nothing short of catastrophic.

The student society associations created by some of the schools to assist students have been so handicapped by university policies that they are frankly incapable of doing anything to help. In fact, they have become promotional tools for these universities.

How can you really do these things? Many of the administrators of these universities have children studying abroad, you will not tolerate these happening to your children, so, why do you neglect and reinforce the systematic exploitation of others? The way I see it, the universities have primary culpability in terms of student problems. A lot of these problems may be happening outside of the school campuses, but the universities have let this happen under their watch.

3) Public bodies:
Frankly how the government of this country runs this place is a disservice to everyone, locals, students, workers and tourists. The difference is that locals have their families and other support systems, tourists come for a while and then leave, most workers are mature and can handle themselves, but the students are really vulnerable. The laws and policies are put in place with zero consideration for students who let’s face it (are the number one source of income for this country). How you expect to continuously neglect us but expect us to recommend North Cyprus to prospective students is frankly incomprehensible. A case in point is the new ‘Student friendly island project’. Let me put it in real nice words (because whenever I think of this project, it just reminds me of how inconsiderate those who make these policies are); this project will fail woefully so please just save us all the stress and withdraw it from the agenda. Consult us and we’ll tell you how you can make this island more student friendly. If you are uncomfortable talking to me or VOIS Cyprus, you don’t need to worry, there are thousands of other associations you can contact such as National Association of Nigerian Students-NANS Tr Zone, among others. A project whose only intention is to attract new students and with zero consideration for the those who are already studying here. The way I see it, this project only benefits the bank involved no one else.

That aside, the healthcare system is atrocious. We pay a high premium for insurance but the many of us would rather go to private hospitals than the public hospitals because many of the nurses and doctors either do not speak English, are rude, treat students really terribly, dismissive, etc. I literally know of cases where students have gone to public hospitals and they have been told they are fine and the next day they go to a private hospital and are diagnosed with a really serious illness, some of them life threatening. There was a case where because of a wrong diagnosis the student died. I tried to convince the family to file a suit because the evidence was really clear, but the family préfèred to bury their son and try to heal from the pain. I know these things because as head of VOIS, I am often the call of last resort when students no longer know what to do.

I have seen so much pain and suffering caused by this health care system, I fear I may have become immune to the suffering of my friends. I still remember the case of Michael Saliu. I still have his pictures in my phone and sometimes when I am sad I go through his photos just to see his smile. He was so strong right up until his last moment. He inspires me so much and I cry whenever I think of him. His death hurt me so much, and still haunts me all the time. He didn’t deserve to die, everything was in place to save him but for stupid laws (you can read up about this in a report I coauthored about this. The title is; “If laws kill...” https://www.voiscyprus.org/pub). A lot needs to be done in this sector. We are basically at danger. I will not even delve into the way the government is handling the COViD19 situation...atrocious. Dr. Özlem Gürkut covers this succinctly.

4. Labour conditions/exploitation:
I mean it is no secret that some of the labour conditions under which students work are slavery-like conditions. Long working hours and very little pay. With not enough monitoring and support systems, the exploitation of student workers is rife. It is not enough to establish a hotline, you have to educate people on what their rights are, and when they do report, you have to make examples of these employers who have been reported. There is not enough of this. We all know that a significant number of students pick up odd jobs to be able to earn enough money to sustain themselves.

However, this is proving very difficult and has created an industry ripe for exploitation. This labour exploitation even extends within some of the universities. It is appalling that the ministry of labour just looks on.

Forced prostitution/rape/violence against women:
This is a serious concern. There’s so ma y cases of young female students being tricked into prostitution by both locals and other students/foreigners. It is quite shocking that this happens. People’s kids being raped and forced into sexual slavery. Rawaa Ahmed when she was here did a great job in trying to raise awareness of this issue, however, a lot more still needs to be done. Some pimps pose online as potential employers only for these girls to realize after they get these jobs that it includes having to have sex with the employer or his friends or other customers. Yes, this happens. Sometimes young students borrow money from their friends or from local shops and are forced to pay back by having to work as a sex worker. This may sound mind boggling, but this is happening right here right now. This doesn’t only happen to students, if you remember Ramadan Sanıvar just last week gave an interview where he shared information on forced sexual exploitation (https://www.kibrispostasi.com/…/n341560-av-sanivar-muvekkil…). VOIS Cyprus has also conducted a survey on the issue of sexual violence (https://www.voiscyprus.org/pub titled; “A report on three surveys”).

5. University agents 😡:
Along with the universities, these lot are equally culpable. What is more annoying is that many of these agents are either students or former students and should know better but to mislead prospective students. Do not get me wrong, being an agent is not the problem, however, misrepresenting the reality of North Cyprus with lies is the issue here. Even though we have countlessly informed the universities about this and asked for them to hold these agents more accountable, nothing is being done about this. Agents lie and misrepresent and bring students here who end up having to go into drugs, prostitution, online scamming, theft and other illegal activities just to be able to survive because the reality they were presented with is different from that which they found upon arrival here. If this “agent industry” is not heavily regulated, things will only worsen.

Sometimes I don’t blame the student agents who mislead and misrepresent because they themselves are caught up in a vicious circle of exploitation. They were themselves lied to and trafficked here and because they have no better alternatives, they themselves decide to become agents in order to be able to survive. And so the vicious circle continues. The buck really stops at those who have the power to regulate but prefer not to. Make no mistake no single university can regulate this industry, it has to be a collective undertaking. But we know that is not possible because of the vicious competition between the universities. Hence, the decision needs to be taken at the level of YODAK and the Ministry of Education.

6. Police and immigration:
I know I have been cautioned to refrain from criticizing the police, but frankly if I cannot Curtiz’e one of the institutions responsible for reinforcing many of the problems students face, then that would be dishonest. On another note, why should I not? Are they not culpable? Don’t even know why I have to explain myself.

The police is supposed to be the first respondent in times of most emergencies. However, a lot of the time they make things worse by almost always siding with the local. I have come across some really terrible cases. In fact, I’ve been hit by a police officer repeatedly without provocation. And this happened because he was physically harassing a female friend of mine at the freaking hospital. When we went to the police station I met several police officers who knew me and pleaded on his behalf that I do not sue. I agreed to let it go, but today I regret it, should have set an example with him. There was this time when I went in an official capacity as head of VOIS to represent some girls who had been physically abused and harassed sexually by a local. We reported the case at the police station and their information was taken. Only for one of the officers on the same day to privately message one of the girls attempting to court her for sex. I remember calling the police and they said they will handle this internally which of course meant nothing will be done. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

On the other hand, some of our strongest allies are also within the police force and have been immensely helpful over the last couple of years. Some of them are really gentle and thoughtful souls, but a lot of them really need to be trained on how to interact with a culturally diverse population. Sometimes I really don’t blame these police officers, I blame the lack of investment in training them on how to manage diversity. Of course, there are lots of students who are really problems, and serious problems at that too.

The immigration office is a different issue altogether. This office seems to operate with a different set of laws, ones which were thought of in space or Mars maybe. Imagine as a foreigner that your first experience at the airport is with an immigration officer who is rude, dismissive, aggressive and frankly hostile and violent. The experiences of many foreigners at the immigration at the airport is mind boggling. Honestly, the ministry of interior seriously needs to reign them in. They are so inconsistent too. It seems sometimes as though their decisions are based on their moods. There’s been lots of times when I’ve had to go to the airport or give them a call to explain what the law states and they’ll say to my face that they don’t care. It’s crazy.

While we are at this, what is this crazy policy of deporting people living with HIV and other STDs? Are we living in the Middle Ages? People living with HIV and other STDs are not criminals. They have frankly not committed a crime. Also, modern medicine ensures zero transmissibility if properly taken. As a result, they no longer pose a problem to society as you claim. It is interesting that after talking to the offices of the ministries of interior, education and deputy-prime minister they all claim that said deportation is illegal and has stoped, yet we still see people being deported. Who is doing the deportation? The law says such deportation is only possible following a determination by the ministry of health that said person poses a threat to society and an order from the ministry of interior. Both allege innocence...really interesting. Watch this documentary to learn more about the experience of a student who was deported (https://youtu.be/jYQU9ow0Czg).

7. Mental health:
On a serious note, attention needs to be paid toward the mental health of students. With every passing here the General condition is worsening. The VOIS committee on mental health issues has been doing some work on this by creating social circles where students feel comfortable and safe to share their thoughts with one another. This committee under Ashraf Saleem has also penned letters to some universities calling on them to revisit their counselling departments and make them more accessible to students. So far, there’s been no response from these universities. If you are not aware, we are in the middle of a mental health crisis and drug abuse problem whh has been made worse by COVID 19. The neglect here is another classic example of the negligence of the universities and their failure to care for their students.

8. Racism:
Do I need to say more on this subject? I think not. We have extensively covered this in our BLM campaign (find here: https://www.voiscyprus.org/pub).

General living conditions:
General living conditions for foreign students here is depreciating and becoming not harder, but untenable for many students. Prices of goods and services either need to drop or we’ll see more students continue moving to Turkey. Turkey is attempting to duplicate the North Cyprus model in some of its remote parts, and it is attracting many students there who find the living conditions cheaper and more affordable.

There is also the fact that you really need to stop seeing international students as just money bags. It almost seems as though many locals just want to get a piece of the cake and move to the next. It is time to start treating these students as though they were your kids, because in reality they are. Many students are just looking for guidance and the right emotional support.

This is not meant as an indictment on North Cyprus but rather to engender a much needed debate before it becomes too late. This does not also absolve students from culpability. Some students are really terrible. For example, yesterday night I got into a lovely elderly man’s taxi. He told me that on many occasions, students will board his taxi and asked to be dropped somewhere. Upon arrival they’ll tell him to wait while they get into their apartment to get money only never to return. He was really annoyed and was asking me why some people would do that to an old man. I didn’t know what to say so told him that frankly some people are despicable. When he dropped me off he refused to take any money and we spent a while debating why I had to pay or not to pay. I ended up paying and also took his card. He said the next time we meet he wants to know more about Cameroon.

I did not expect this treatise to be this long, and you may be surprised to learn that I wrote this on my phone. I have not had the time to go through to check for grammatical errors and other mistakes. Please forgive me. My fingers are tiring and I also need to do some much needed work I’ve had starting at me while I write this.

I am hoping that as you read this, you tag your friends, schools, teachers, public officials, dorms, house owners, etc.

You can also share in any format you choose to.

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