According to Zimbabwean media reports, Kindness Paradza, chair of the country’s foreign affairs committee, said that he had received confirmation of the problems from a number of student recruitment agencies and students themselves.
“We have about 4,800 Zimbabwean students who are in [North] Cyprus, some went there through bogus agencies and were promised non-existent scholarships,” Mr Paradza was quoted as saying by the Zimbabwe Daily News.
“Some went there with false information and, because of that, they got there and started involving themselves with drugs, in prostitution, others are marrying other nationalities for convenience.
“So we have approached the [Zimbabwean] Ministry [of Foreign Affairs] to send an official delegation there through Turkey, because [North] Cyprus is under Turkey.”
An unnamed student told the paper the situation had become “dire” for many Zimbabweans in the TRNC who were struggling to make ends meet.
“Zimbabwean girls are dating any nationality they can for money,” the student said. “Some are involved in unprotected sexual activities with many men for money.”
The allegations appeared to back up a new study by researchers from the Management Centre of the Mediterranean and University of West Scotland (UWS) in Cyprus, which involved 197 international students from 30 countries.
“A lot of students have fallen victim to lying agents,” one Zimbabwean student studying in North Cyprus for the past last two years told the interviewers. “They have been forced to freeze [their studies] and the university expects them to leave the country.
“[But] if I could afford a flight ticket back home, then why would I fail to pay my school fees? We are stuck.”
One female Nigerian student arrived in the North Cyprus last year, said: “When looking for a job in [the TRNC] you have to be very careful because employers can be very crazy.
“There was this man I was working with and he was asking me for sex.”
Ömür Yılmaz, academic director of the UWS programmes in Cyprus, who shared the findings exclusively with Cyprus Today, said that a third of those working to fund their studies had experienced “sexual harassment or assaults” while 16 per cent had been subjected to “physical assault” in the workplace.
Just over 60 per cent reported “poor working conditions” while 29 per cent said that they had not been paid.
Almost two-thirds of respondents reported “fraud and/or extortion” by “house agents”– unscrupulous middlemen taking on the role of estate agents within their respective communities – and 39 per cent by student recruitment “agents”.
“Many international students are finding themselves in dire straits shortly after coming to the island and fraudulent agents are a big part of the problem,” Dr Yılmaz said.
“Most international students are recruited . . . through agents, who are misinforming them about the realities of North Cyprus.
“They come here expecting to find affordable accommodation and, most importantly, jobs. They are being told that they would be able to support themselves and even send money back home.
“They find out, after coming here, that accommodation and job opportunities in the universities are extremely limited and that living expenses are much higher than they planned for.”
She said the figures in the report were “frightening” and that the activities of “fraudulent agents” had become a “systematic problem” in the TRNC.
Realise Mwase, who describes himself as a representative of the Zimbabwe community in North Cyprus, said the reports of prostitution and drug usage among his compatriots had been “exaggerated” and came from “unreliable” news sources.
“There might be a few cases which have gone wrong,” he said. “But I do not feel that this is a wider issue. . . There are similar cases in other foreign countries.”
National Education and Culture Minister Özdemir Berova said yesterday that he was not aware of any of the specific issues raised.
“The TRNC, with its universities, is an education centre,” he said. “From time to time we are faced with such reports which try to jeopardise the prestige of the country. . . If there is any such matter, then we need to find out about it and address the problem.”
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