Education Island

Anne Ackermann



In the tiny self declared Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) which occupies the north of the mediterranean island of Cyprus over 100.000 mostly international students are currently enrolled in a total of 20 universities, giving it the nickname “education island”.

The revenues from the presence of these international students, of which as many as 20.000 come from African countries like Nigeria, DRC, Kenya or Cameroon, are the backbone of the economy of this internationally unrecognised piece of land under Turkish occupation.

Many of the young Africans were brought to the island by sometimes malicious agents who promised to make come true the “overseas dream” by advertising free scholarships for “studying in Europe”. Many have sacrificed all to come here in order to gain a European diploma. Just that this is not Europe.

While they struggle to pay tuition fees and high costs of living, many face racism, economic hardship and a general feeling of being stuck. When going back home is not an option and the gates to Europe are closed, life on what they call a ‘no man’s island’ often gets heavy.

{{ readMoreButton }}

  • “The view of the Mediterranean Sea from the sky was glorious. But I couldn’t stop thinking about people whose lives had been lost in the same waters. Only the lucky ones made it across.”

  • Dorcas, 18 arrived from Kinshasa, DRC to Girne one month ago. She shares a small flat in an apartment building with other Congolese students.

    “ I am in English prep school, then I would like to study business. At least here I have a chance to study unlike the rest of Europe. Racism here is not against the men, just towards women, I think.”

  • Sunday, 30, is from Kampala, Uganda. He is doing a master in English Language Teaching.

    “I was disappointed from the time I landed on this island. It was just an airstrip, not an international airport. I realised something was wrong.

    This court has been locked from African players. We cannot access it for no reason given to us. They said that if they find us here they will call the police. Yet this was our refuge, we found peace here and we are entitled to use it. Now we have no other place to go to. We’re afraid to come here and play. “

  • “ In the bible, Zaccheaus was trying to see Jesus. Jesus was passing with a crowd of people. When Zaccheaus could not see Jesus, he climbed a fig tree. Was it a fig tree really? Anyway, the thing is, in my head, fig trees were tall, how else could one use a short tree? Now, I know fig trees are actually short. One of my many discoveries and that it was a Sycamore tree!“


  • Freddie, 25, a designer from Kinshasa, is looking down on the street from the balcony of the apartment in Girne where is currently staying while visiting some friends.

    “The thought of going to Europe excited me. Stories from those who were already abroad were positive in some aspects.”

  • Freddie, 25 is a designer from Kinshasa, DRC

    “ I had come to do my master. But life was too expensive for me and I had to return home. Now I am on a short visit here to see my friends. It is pretty here, but it isn’t Europe.”

  • Two Africans are walking the streets of a middle class neighbourhood in Girne, Northern Cyprus

“At no single stage of my planning, did it occur to me I would feel like an outsider. But a few days upon my arrival, I was anxious to go out to meet locals who neither understood English nor my being. My skin colour, hair, how I spoke and even carried myself seemed to evoke some form of judgement.”


  • Sidonie, 26, from Cameroon, is doing a bachelor in tourism and selling home backed Cameroonian sweets

    “I don’t like it here. It is a struggle. My fees are expensive which I was not aware of
    before. The agent that brought me here disappeared to the southern side of the island and hasn’t fully rendered the services promised.

    I don't think going back home is a bad thing, but my family is watching me.

    My brother sacrificed all to see me to be here. I’m so disturbed about how I'm going to manage the next semester with my fees, house rent and feeding. The worst of all is that I'm undergraduate, I still have four years. One semester’s fee is 1760 Euro, the scholarship offered is meagre to help the situation. ”

  • Sylvie, 23 is from Bamenda, Cameroon. She studied Banking & Finance in Cameroon before coming here.

    “ I arrived on March 25, 2018. It as my first time ever abroad. I had to pay 500.000 Cameroonian Francs (726 Euro) to an agent for the admission and to find a university.

    My first impression was very bad. I thought I would be able to work here and send money home. Instead all I found was a job as a waitress in a beach club. I worked 12 h a day every day and made as little as 1800 Turkish Lira (280 Euro). I was treated badly and felt exploited. If I wanted to rest I had to lock myself in the toilet. As a black you work like a slave.

    In all that time I had frozen my studies, because I had no time, in two years I have only done 2 semesters. I am making money now working on African ladies’s hair from my home. My friends are all African, not one is Cypriot. I do the local people‘s hair, but I keep my distance. “

  • Sharon, 23, from Nairobi, Kenya, is studying a bachelor in tourism and works in a bar.

    “ I work everyday, 6 days a week, from 1 PM up to midnight, sometimes less. I dream of working as an air hostess in Dubai. The interviews for that happen in Turkey and Istanbul.
    I plan to get a visa to Istanbul and apply from there.

    Sometimes I regret to have come here. I had a chance to go to China…What I I like is that it is peaceful. But it is boring. They told us it is Europe, but it is not. ”

  • Suada, 35, a Sudanese from Egypt is studying a master in English Language Teaching, because it is the nearest place to her husband, a Mozambican doctor in Turkey, where she can live and visit him applying for a visa. She teaches English to Chinese children from her home in a virtual classroom.

  • Hazan, 26 , is a PR master student from Dar es Salaam, Tansania and has been in North Cyprus for 4 years

    “ I did not know that this island is separated. I had a friend, he told me: ‘Where you are going, things might get difficult, but you will get used to it.’ Right now I am tired. I have been to almost every angle of this northern part and it feels small. I have several times experienced physical or verbal racism. But then you choose to be on the right side. They are not trying to portray you, they are portraying themselves.

    My dream is to become a pilot. All this what I am going through is part of this dream, it’s a link to where I want to be. ”

  • Marcilene, 21, is an agent and student of maritime transport and logistics.

    “ My father said: You are going to Cyprus? Don’t call me.

    When I came it was tough, but I had to take a bold step and try to achieve something.

    I went for a walk one day, there I discovered that Turkish men feel like African girls are cheap. That day, I came home and asked myself: What can I do? I made myself an agent to bring student here. That thing about being honest about here not being in Europe, it is tough. Now I brought more than 200 students from different countries here, but from all these numbers of students I can say I try my best to tell them the truth about the place.”

  • Maureen, 33, a master student and journalist from Nairobi, Kenya, is portrayed in a popular student hang out near the American University in Girne.
    “Twice, I have gone to the border to try my luck, and each time I have been turned back. One time, I went with my Cypriot boyfriend and hoped we could convince the authority. They refused. My boyfriend and I have resulted into seeing each other every fortnight when he crosses over to my side for a weekend.”

  • Okito, 30, is from Kinshasa, DRC, where he still has a wife and a child. He is currently doing a bachelor in engineering and has been here for 1 year and 3 months.

    “ One day I was in Lefkosia, just walking with my guitar, singing. Suddenly the police came and arrested me. I had not realised that I had crossed the border. I did not know that you cannot go there. I was jailed for three months. For a black man to be in prison here it was a horrible experience. I cried everyday. My mom and dad had to come here and pay 2000 Euro to an immigration lawyer to get me out.

    When I see the sea it makes me want to travel. Ever since I was in prison here, I feel like in a prison on this island.”

  • Sunday, 30, is from Kampala, Uganda. He is doing a master in English Language Teaching.

    “ I was disappointed from the time I landed on this island. It was just an airstrip, not an international airport. I realised something was wrong.

    My stay here if it wasn’t for god and prayers has been totally depressing. I pray and I find comfort in god. Depressing in a manner that you are in Europe, but not in Europe at the same time. And also you are in Turkey but also not in Turkey at the same time. So you are basically trapped and the only place you can go to back to your country. Here you are a free man but in prison at the same time.

    One of the reasons why I left the city and went back to the dormitory was the fear of not being safe. There have been loads of deaths on the island, of students. Most of these bodies don’t make it back home. Some of them are hate attacks and the police ignores it. And they make it seem like suicide, or `he was into drugs`. But no, some of these people got murdered. ”