The Libyan students were already nervous when they saw the police in front of their university gate. But when they learned that their names were linked to terror organizations, they began to panic.

Some were in the middle of their studies, others were about to finish their research yet the students found themselves to be suspects, exposing them to arrest or scrutiny amongst governmental authorities when renewing residency permits or other administrative tasks. Passing checkpoints suddenly became a source of fear.

Their crime, they discovered, was attending the wrong university at the wrong time.

The Coup

Following the coup attempt in Turkey, on July 23, 2016, a decree went into effect ordering the closure of 15 Turkish universities, in connection with a state of emergency declared by the government following the failed coup attempt on July 15.

The decree orders the closure of universities (among other institutions) that “belong to, are connected or are in communication with the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ/Parallel State Structure), which has been identified as a threat to national security.”

One of these is institutions is Fateh Univeristy, which enrolled 60 postgraduate Libyan students. After closure of Fateh University, authorities transferred students to Istanbul University, which wasn’t ready to receive them. There, students had to wait in long queues in tiny offices and narrow corridors to prove their right to study.

Other students sought other options, which proved problematic, since their time at Fateh University branded them with a stigma.

The Biologist

A 42-year-old Phd biology student, who is married with children, was forced to look for another university after he learned that he would not be able to resume his studies at Istanbul University. His search took him on a 500-kilometer bus ride outside of the city.

“From which university you are coming from?” an administrator asked the biologist.

“University of Istanbul,” he answered.

With a raised eyebrow, the administrator rebuked the student for trying to cover up that he had really come from Fateh University.

Some of his colleagues have been able to study in Istanbul but deal with the stigma from having studied at Fateh.

“They used to tell us that all students from Fateh University were weak, as the university did not choose us,” one of his colleagues said.

Another student, who ended up at the University of Istanbul has been trying, unsuccessfully for one year to get his certificate. But even worse, he is unable to renew his residency permit “because my name connects with a terror organization. I now faced with expulsion at any minute,” he said.

Arrest and Expulsion

One woman PhD student in medicine was arrested for a week when she went to renew her residency permit at the students’ office in Istanbul last year. Others managed to renew their permits but one student who wanted to travel to Libya to visit his family, was pulled aside by authorities in Ataturk airport, and he was expelled.

The Libyan Ministry of Education has not responded to our requests for a comment on the situation of Libyan students in Turkey.

 by Saber Ayyub