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Turkish students, teachers use Erasmus and internship programs to seek asylum in EU

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Turkey’s Ministry of Education has been warned about students and teachers who went to EU countries under the Erasmus student exchange program and various internships and abandoned those international projects to seek asylum abroad, the Sözcü daily reported on Wednesday.

According to Sözcü, the Turkish National Agency, the relevant institution of the Directorate of European Union Affairs, part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sent a warning to the Education Ministry on the issue.

Ministry of Education Director General for EU and Foreign Relations Hasan Ünsal then sent a circular to ministry headquarters and provincial directors in all 81 provinces, warning that teachers and students who have the potential of seeking asylum abroad shouldn’t be selected for international programs.

“The Turkish National Agency … informed us that there are cases of students and teachers leaving the programs without informing the school administration and not returning to our country … [from] countries that are part of the programs (especially Germany, Austria and Czechia). … Considering our warnings, the selection processes of the participants who will be included in any … internationally funded projects, especially the Erasmus program, should be followed meticulously,” Ünsal said in the circular.

In October 2021 the European Commission and Turkey signed agreements granting association status for the period 2021-2027 in Erasmus, the most popular student exchange program that gives students the chance to study in EU countries.

Every year, approximately 20,000 Turkish students go to EU countries under Erasmus, with the students expected to stay in another country for two to 12 months for educational purposes and return to Turkey, Sözcü said, adding that some 500,000 students have gone abroad under the program in the last 15 years.

The number of students and teachers who went abroad on such international programs and sought asylum has yet to be revealed, according to Sözcü, but the authorities have started to closely follow all international student exchange projects, including the Evliya Çelebi Student Exchange Program that 800 students benefited from this year, to ensure the applicants’ return to the country.

Official statistics and opinion surveys have shown that an increasing number of people, especially the younger generation, are leaving Turkey or planning to do so.

According to a public survey conducted jointly by the İstanbul-based Yeditepe University and MAK Counselling among people aged 18-29 last year, 76 percent said they wanted to live abroad for a better future, while one out of every two said they were not happy with their lives in Turkey.

Data from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) also revealed that the number of people leaving Turkey had increased by 97 percent between 2016 and 2018, which corresponds to the post-coup era in the country.

After Turkey survived a failed military coup in July 2016, the Turkish government launched a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens under the pretext of an anti-coup fight, prompting thousands of people to flee, sometimes through dangerous routes in the Aegean Sea or the Evros River.

The country has been suffering from backsliding in its economy over the past several years with high inflation and unemployment as well as a poor human rights record. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is criticized for mishandling the economy, emptying the state’s coffers and establishing a one-man rule in the country where dissent is suppressed and opponents are jailed on politically motivated charges.

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