Following danger warnings and criticism against Turkish Cypriot colleges, Nigerian student representatives in the north have refuted reports of mysterious and unsolved killings of fellow countrymen on the island.
Earlier this week, the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM) warned Nigerian parents against sending their children to universities in the north, accusing Turkish Cypriot authorities of failing to carry out full investigations in over a dozen deaths involving students from Nigeria.
But according to Evidence Akhayere, the president of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in Diaspora, there were many challenges for international students in the north but “insecurity is not among these challenges” in the northern part of the island.
Akhayere posted on Facebook a long response following criticism by NiDCOM director Abike Dabiri-Erewa, who issued issued a statement on Monday calling on northern Cyprus to be blacklisted as a college destination.
'95% of the names given by the NIDCOM boss have been deaths from natural cause, it is rather bogus and ridiculous to say that 100 Nigerian students have been murdered'
Dabiri-Erewa made the statement after she met with the mother of 25-year-old Nigerian student Ibrahim Khaleel Bello who whose dead in Kyrenia was ruled as a suicide, with his mother calling it an unsolved murder.
“Like every other country there have been cases of deaths amongst Nigerian students as well as other international students. Contrary to what the NIDCOM boss had said, these causes largely natural and has nothing to do with hate from locals,” Akhayere wrote on Facebook.
The NANS president went on to say that in some cases, deaths were the result of disputes among friends of the same nationality.
But Akhayere also criticized news media, saying there was a lack of investigative journalism after some outlets reported that 100 Nigerians were murdered in the north, a statement attributed to Khaleel’s mother, Judge Amina Bello.
“95% of the names given by the NIDCOM boss have been deaths from natural cause, it is rather bogus and ridiculous to say that 100 Nigerian students have been murdered,” Akhayere said.
According to online media, the former president of the National Association of Nigerian Campus Editor (NANCE), Lukmon Fasasi, also was quoted as saying that Cyprus was a safe place.
Fasasi, a Master’s student currently at a university in the north, said the “locals are accommodating and friendly.”
“Unlike the racism issues across Europe, Turkish Cypriot citizens are very welcoming. They want to take pictures with you, they want to talk to you. ‘Abir’, which means brother ‘arkadaş’ which means friend, are the most used words I have heard the locals use to address students.”
“I will be glad to take the NiDCOM chairman on a tour of the Island, whenever she’s willing to come” Fasasi said.
But real problems persist, including exploitation
Stories about schools in the north have not all been positive in the past. Last year, a BBC story spoke of international students from Africa who chose the unrecognized north in order to take advantage of cheap tuition and fees.
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 and crime to make ends meet.
Turkish Cypriot officials have said they were implementing changes to combat exploitation of foreign students, including protecting those who report abuse.
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 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.
In the north, according to BBC, Turkish Cypriot police rarely were in a position to intervene when students fell victims of loan sharking. As a result, many female students are believed to be forced to pay back debts with sexual favours and are often pushed into a life of prostitution.
In the south, police made began an investigation after it emerged that a number of international students had received misleading messages from an email account at the college, instructing them to deposit money into a bank account that belonged to a foreign man, who was apprehended at the airport prior to catching an overseas flight.