A recent BBC story about foreign students in the north highlights many challenges that international students face in Cyprus, including unethical recruitment, exploitation and economic hardship.
According to BBC, 120,000 foreign students enroll in Turkish Cypriot universities in the north, which is over a third of the local population. Many come from African countries and choose the isolated north in order to take advantage of cheap tuition and fees.
When Lovli showed up at the college, she found out that the money she had saved to pay fees would only cover part of the tuition
But soon after arriving on the island, many students discover that they owe more money to the school than they previously thought, often falling victims to loan sharking or resorting to prostitution to make ends meet.
One woman from Nigeria in her 20’s, whose name in the story was Lovli, said she left behind a husband and two small children to come to Cyprus.
A fellow Nigerian, whom she described as a friend of her husband's, worked as a recruiter for Turkish Cypriot universities in the north. The agent told Lovli that she could study for only €1300 per year and also she could get a job that would allow her to send money back to her family.
But when Lovli showed up at the college, she found out that the money she had saved to pay fees would only cover part of the tuition. In order to come up with the rest of the money, she would need to earn extra money with only a prospect of a low paying job.
There have been reports on similar problems in the Greek Cypriot south, in the Republic of Cyprus, where “school agents” - typically from the same country as the prospective students – painted a rosy picture and promised cheap tuition which could be paid easily by entering the local workforce.
But some students resort to working more than one job and often illegally, as laws put restrictions on foreign students both in terms of the number of hours they can work and the type of profession they can seek employment legally.
Exploitation and prostitution
In the north, according to BBC, students also fall victims of loan sharking, with Turkish Cypriot police rarely being in a position to intervene. As a result, many female students are forced to pay back debts with sexual favours and are often forced into a life of prostitution.
"It's the survival of the fittest on this island," Lovli said.
Turkish Cypriot officials say they are implementing changes to combat exploitation of foreign students, including protecting those who report abuse.
Pastor speaks out
But a pastor from Zimbabwe, who lives in the north but his name was not used in the story, told the BBC these changes are taking too long and his message is a direct warning to prospective students and their families.
"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."