Cypriot Students Stranded Overseas

Cypriot Students Stranded Overseas

, by Elena Vardon

Cypriot Students Stranded Overseas
Larnaca International airport in Cyprus FromNicosia, Wikimedia Commons

On March 15th, the President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, announced the cabinet’s decision to close the country’s borders in order to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Around 20% of Cypriot university students study abroad, and they faced a predicament. Stay and finish their academic term, or leave everything mid-air and fly home. No one knew for how long.

To be allowed entry on the island, individuals have “to submit a medical certificate, issued no more than 4 days before, showing that they have been tested for coronavirus”. As a further precaution to contain imported cases, travellers must be subjected to a “14-day compulsory quarantine at accommodation facilities designated by the Republic of Cyprus”.

Two EasyJet flights from the UK landed at Paphos and Larnaca airports on March 16th, past the 6 pm deadline. Following the travel ban, passengers were forbidden from disembarking. Videos of agitated scenes locked inside the cabin went viral, as distraught parents waited for their children. After hours of commotion and the intervention of Transport Minister Karousos, an exception was made. Passengers were transported straight to state-owned residences in the Troodos mountains for quarantine. “Citizens of second, third category… I don’t know how they have classified people in this plane,” a woman at the arrivals gate told local news Sigma.

These measures were not welcomed by all. In fact, Parliament President Syllouris also expressed his discontent to Sigma, condemning the catch-22 situation imposed by the decree, as most countries require individuals to present symptoms to be tested for coronavirus. Alternatively, private health clinics offer tests at excessive prices (from £225 in the UK and €280 in Greece). “This is an indirect way to cage our students abroad, and this is unacceptable behaviour,” he concluded.

Stuck in lockdown in London, an LSE master student agrees with Mr Syllouris, that it is “a cowardly excuse to keep most of us abroad”. The privileged and well-connected can afford private testing and a seat on a plane home, whether by private jet or getting on the list for a charter flight. Two students appealed the legality of the decree. They challenged the restriction as anti-constitutional to Cypriot courts. Article 14 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus clearly states “No citizen shall be banished or excluded from the Republic under any circumstances”. On this matter, Attorney-General Clerides commented that “the Republic also has the right and obligation to defend the necessity and legality of the painful measures it has taken for the sake of the common good”, echoing official statements.

Students left behind have been promised a €750 allowance for not returning over Easter. Foreign Minister Christodoulides has also stated that students in the UK are eligible to receive a free food parcel. He revealed on local radio RIK that a “wealthy compatriot” is funding both initiatives.

An London School of Economics student said “do they think they can exile us and then buy us off with lentils, halloumi and €750? Our dignity cannot be bought!”. Discouraging students from returning with a compensation package does not absolve them from feeling abandoned by their government. Cypriot leaders fumble to conciliate epidemiologists’ warnings and repatriation demands. The Foreign Affairs Ministry’s call centre received 27,000 inquiries by early April. Such outspokenness triggered repatriation efforts, namely with the launch of the connect2cyprus.gov.cy platform to register interest and arrange the gradual return of Cypriots.

With the untimely treatment of its students overseas, the relationship between the state and its citizens is damaged. A public health crisis undeniably requires officials’ attention, but it is no reason to desert Cyprus’ “bright youth” abroad.

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