Travel restrictions preventing entry into the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) for all bar TRNC citizens from countries with a serious outbreak of the mutant Covid-19 strain have been eased, paving the way for foreign nationals with TRNC residency to return.
Following pressure from local groups representing foreign residents, the Turkish Cypriot authorities have decided to allow foreigners with permanent TRNC residency permits travelling from the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands, Brazil and South Africa to enter North Cyprus.
The decision was ratified last week, and confirmed in a NOTAM (formal notification) issued by the TRNC Transport Ministry to airlines and air and sea ports on Saturday, 30 January.
Like many other countries, the TRNC had tightened up its travel rules after details of the more contagious variation of coronavirus emerged in December. Flights and travellers from countries with the mutation were banned.
Some countries, like Turkey, applied exemptions allowing their own citizens and foreigners with residency permits to enter. The Turkish Cypriot authorities, however, opted to only allow TRNC citizens to travel from these high risk countries.
North Cyprus has a significant number of foreign residents, including a large British community. Dozens of people who had gone to the UK for Christmas suddenly found themselves unable to return to their TRNC homes when the new coronavirus travel restrictions came into force on 23 December.
One stranded Briton, Kim Betts, contacted T-VINE to say she was “feeling somewhat helpless” after finding her attempts to travel back to her TRNC home blocked. She and others in a similar situation used social media to appeal for help.
The Foreign Residents (TFR), and British Residents Society, two TRNC-based associations for foreign residents, and online support group North Cyprus Expats Uncut Version got involved, raising awareness of the situation and lobbying the TRNC government to enable the residents to return.
The TFR had played a similar role last summer when they met with then Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay after foreign residents with residency permits were shut out of the TRNC for three months during the first wave of the pandemic. Building on their experience of getting the government to change tact, it is understood the TFR again contacted Foreign Ministry officials to lobby them to amend the restrictions.
14-day mandatory pre-paid quarantine
With the TRNC exemption rule now also applying to foreigners with official TRNC residency visa documentation, those stuck in mutant Covid high risk countries can now return to North Cyprus.
Passengers entering the TRNC from the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, Brazil and South Africa must do mandatory 14-day quarantine at a government approved quarantine centre at cost to themselves.
The quarantine fee must be pre-paid to the TRNC Finance Ministry, with airlines requiring proof of this before allowing passengers to board.
Last week’s entry rule change meant that Kim Betts and her partner, and several other Britons were able to travel back to North Cyprus via Istanbul last night. Yet the situation for international students is less clear.
Does the exemption apply to international students?
The 30 January NOTAM only states what the exemption policy is for foreign residents from the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, Brazil and South Africa. There is no mention of international students, which suggests those in high risk countries are still barred from entering North Cyprus.
One student from Britain, currently in his third year studying Politics at the Eastern Mediterranean University, is desperate to return. Malik Margan told T-VINE:
“I have been trying to find information regarding any new decision or even if students would be allowed to travel and haven’t gotten any clear information from the consulate and I have not been able to get through to the educational attaché for almost a month.”
T-VINE has approached the TRNC authorities for comment.
Main image, top, of husband and wife taking selfie on plane during pandemic. Photo © kuprevich / freepik