Turkish nationals abroad thankful to be home amid virus
2 students from Turkey recount story of leaving UK for Turkey to be quarantined as COVID-19 outbreak continues
Many students and expatriates living abroad, particularly in the countries worst-hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic, have become more fearful as the seriousness of the situation mounted towards the second half of March.
Turkey has distinguished itself among countries that have sought to evacuate and bring home their nationals from such countries.
After Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that at least 3,358 students in the U.K., Ireland, Switzerland, Poland, Italy, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates would be evacuated, many other Turkish expats applied to the embassies to get home as well, particularly those with short-term visas.
Fatma Seyma Keskin, a student at the University of Birmingham, and Gulnur Cengiz, who studies at the University of Newcastle, were among those students who were airlifted from more than nine countries.
They told Anadolu Agency the story of how they left the U.K. and came to Turkey to be quarantined.
On March 20, the Turkish Embassy in the U.K. instructed students who wanted to return to Turkey to notify the staff via email.
Deciding to go back
Q: How did you decide that you will come back to Turkey? What did you experience while you prepared for the journey?
FATMA SEYMA KESKIN: "I had to decide very quickly. I had to go to London from Birmingham and fly out from there. It would be a dangerous journey, I could contact with the virus. But if I had stayed, I couldn't be sure what would happen if I got ill. I didn't know if I could heal myself, and I was in panic. People were stockpiling food and Prime Minister Johnson was saying we would't be treated even if we felt ill. I decided on going back home.
I can't describe the happiness I had when I saw my confirmed ticket. Many friends of mine also cancelled flights, but none of their countries sent special planes for their citizens. I can't be thankful enough that I'm a Turkish citizen."
GULNUR CENGIZ: "All of my worries melted away when I received an email on Sunday from the Turkish consulate. The email had detailed information about where and when the airplane would leave, the ticket price and a consent form about accepting being put under quarantine. It also said we could go to the airport on Monday, and leave the U.K., in return for a minimal fee [150 pounds/$184] for our Turkish Airlines flight.
I booked a train ticket from Newcastle to London in a rush and I remember the moment I left my dorm. I waved at my friends, with whom I shared a lot, and I had no clue if I would ever see them again as they were going back to their countries as well. We couldn't even hug, we just cried and smiled at each other from a distance."
Upon arriving at the airport, both Keskin and Cengiz encountered a massive crowd, but also very helpful Turkish Airlines staff.
Q: What were your experiences like in the airport in the U.K. and Turkey?
CENGIZ: "I arrived at the airport in London on Monday morning at around 7 a.m. [0700GMT]. People started forming a line, which was very long. Turkish Airlines staff worked very hard to make sure everyone was able to get on a plane."
KESKIN: "There were many officials from the Turkish Embassy and Education Ministry, they were working round the clock. There was a calm atmosphere and an official from the Education Ministry helped us, Turkey's scholarship students, personally. We signed a paper that we would be quarantined and would follow all rules."
Upon arrival at Istanbul Airport on the same morning but at different times, both Cengiz and Keskin said health officials took their temperatures with thermal cameras and distributed masks and instructions on what to do. Keskin said they "never went into the airport due to health reasons, got our bags in the air field, and got on buses to go to the quarantine dorms."
CENGIZ: We arrived in Sakarya [northwestern Turkey] at around midnight. They took us inside in small groups. A health team took our fever and asked if we had any of the symptoms.
They were very helpful and pleasant. They always addressed us as 'dear guests.'
I remembered Boris Johnson's statement, in which he said "most of you will lose your loved ones," and I thanked God for my country. I think Turkey's approach to this issue is much more humane. As an international student in the U.K., whenever I listen to the U.K.'s news, I feel like human life doesn't matter much, like I was easily expendable."
When they started living in the dormitories reserved for new arrivals to be placed in quarantine, Cengiz and Keskin recounted their last few days before leaving the U.K. -- and their relief to be home -- despite the quarantine.
Q: How were the places you were quarantined?
KESKIN: "Just before I arrived, I was trying to sort out my PhD and university-related issues and was also trying to survive. I was teaching as an assistant at university. I tried to shop every day -- if I could find something on the shelves. Some days, I went to six markets, but couldn't find anything.
I went to the dentist, as well as to the Home Office to sort my visa issues. I was always in contact with people, so I was very scared. I really wasn't feeling good.
Looking back on those moments in this quarantine room, with my 3-4 meals a day and the very helpful staff, I feel much better and safer. Thankfully, I also haven't shown any symptoms."
CENGIZ: "Before I left the U.K., I had a very sore throat for a few days. I got very scared and couldn't even tell my parents, because I didn't want to worry them. I suppose most students living abroad would understand this feeling.
Now, I'm in quarantine. People take pity and feel sorry for me when they hear I am, but in fact I feel very safe and sound here. We have zero contact with the outside world, our meals arrive at our door, I can ask for anything I want. Thankfully, I haven't shown any symptoms, either.
They even brought us a chessboard to play against each other."
KESKIN: We are provided with food, yoga mats and Pilates balls and books. I'm trying to make the most of this situation. I also call my parents and friends. My parents came to visit me. Naturally, I only saw them from the closed window, and I waved at them."
Cengiz and Keskin are only two of thousands of students brought home by Turkey.
Turkish officials have said the country brought more than 20,000 citizens from 50 countries.
Turkey places evacuees under quarantine for 14 days after being brought back from abroad as part of measures against spreading the virus.
Since appearing in Wuhan, China, last December, the novel coronavirus has spread to at least 184 countries and regions.
Data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University shows worldwide infections surpassing 1.36 million with nearly 76,000 deaths. Almost 292,000 people have recovered.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.