Turkey is cracking down on students and teachers applying for the Erasmus study exchange program. The government has claimed that some are using the program to flee abroad.
Turkey’s ministry of education has been told by the foreign office that an increasing number of students and teachers sent abroad under the Erasmus European education exchange program are seeking asylum in their host countries, according to a report by the Turkish national daily newspaper Sözcü. In response, the education ministry has asked local authorities in Turkey not to admit applicants to the program if there is a risk that they will try to remain abroad.
According to Duvar English, an independent Turkish news website, the directors of Turkey’s 81 provinces were told that students have been leaving their internships in Europe, especially in Germany, Austria and Czech Republic, without informing their schools.
"There are even cases of students and teachers who have not come back to our country," Turkish education ministry official Hasan Ünsal wrote in a letter to the provincial heads. "The increase of such cases constitutes a negative situation in terms of the respectability of the programs that we run and our official passports," the letter continued.
20,000 Turkish students a year
During the academic year 2018/2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, around 17,400 Turkish students and trainees and 3,260 Turkish teachers traveled abroad under the program. According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), a Swedish NGO founded by exiled Turkish journalists, more than 500,000 students have applied for asylum in the last 15 years.
The SCF claims that students and academics have come under increasing pressure from the Turkish government in recent years. It says that in August, the interior ministry ordered universities to monitor student activities, and growing numbers of students have been arrested or detained for taking part in protests.
The Erasmus program members are all the EU member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, and EU candidates North Macedonia, Serbia and – since 2004 – Turkey. Most other countries in the world, with the exception of Switzerland and the United Kingdom, also take part. The program allows students to spend a maximum period of 12 months abroad at a time, but they can participate multiple times.
Late last year, financial support for Erasmus students from Turkey was cut, with some reporting that they received no money for three months. Eslem Güler, a mathematics student at Yildiz Technical University studying in the Czech Republic, told Duvar that life had also been made more difficult by the poor exchange rate. Turkey is in a deep economic crisis, which is also threatening students' job prospects once they return from abroad.