A Turkish citizen in London is dealing with these hard times with grace, and she's thankful for the power of technology.

I bought a one-way ticket to London in January. I was returning to my second home where I went to university, two years after working in Turkey as an editor. No matter how much I am deeply connected to Turkey and my culture, to me, London has always been the saviour of my goals in life. That is to say, I would have never imagined it would one day trap me indoors and cut me from the outside world as such.

After settling here, I thought the boisterous sea had finally settled and less stressful days would be waiting for me. There are currently an estimated 600,000 Turkish nationals in the UK and I belong to the majority of the Turkish population here with my Turkish Businessperson/ECAA visa (known as Ankara Agreement among Turks) which enables me to work only on a self-employed basis. The visa was granted to me in April of 2019 for one year, meaning it expires this month. I was soon supposed to be in the process of applying to extend my visa, which is known to take three to four months. During this time, because the Home Office does not issue a temporary residence permit, I would be unable to leave the country otherwise I would not be able to return. In the meantime, the world was becoming deeply concerned by rapid escalation of the coronavirus.

The virus was spreading rapidly, yet the United Kingdom was slow to take measures against it, with the Prime Minister Boris Johnson defending ‘herd immunity’. Almost a month ago I was in an office meeting on a Friday and my client asked me to go home to bring my laptop so that I would have their database downloaded in case we would not be able to have meetings in the near future. That weekend, I stayed indoors voluntarily, following the latest news and updates as the whole Europe was trying to cope with the pandemic. It didn’t take me long to email my clients that I was very worried and did not agree with the government’s approach of ‘herd immunity’. The Tube (metro) that I had to take while commuting every day was packed, people were coughing or sneezing and nobody was wearing masks. The public was still not taking it seriously even though the papers were writing about British nationals stranded abroad due to the recent developments. Turkey was already aware of the risk and had started suspending international flights including to the UK. I must admit, I was impressed by the Turkish government’s approach to dealing with the pandemic from the very beginning, it was better than the UK. As thousands of Turkish nationals in the UK flocked to buy the last tickets to Turkey, I was left here alone with no option but a single question on my mind: “what am I going to do?”

The next week I was working from home. As increasing number of scientific studies had started to prove that the UK’s herd immunity strategy would cause thousands of citizens to die or be hospitalised, it didn’t take the government long to follow other countries and take similar measures announcing a lockdown on the whole country: “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives.” 

Non-essential businesses were all closing down, everybody was starting to work from home and keeping a two-metre distance between them. But what did that mean for me as an immigrant? Ever-more uncertainty. I was suddenly facing losing opportunities that I have worked so hard for. While everyone started withdrawing into their shells, I felt, perhaps for the first time, exposed with my immigrant identity here, more than ever before. I was stuck here with an expiring visa unable to go back home. It was time to take out the Pollyanna in me; “Thankfully, at least, I have an income and a house I can put my head into,” I thought.

I received an urgent call from my legal advisor the same week, informing me that they were applying to extend my visa online on my behalf, to avoid any penalties in the near future regarding my immigration status. The visa application process is long and complicated here. It requires lots of formal documents to be submitted as well as an appointment for biometric photos and fingerprints, and it has just turned into an even more challenging one. The Home Office had immediately cancelled all appointments until further notice without any explanations. The government had created an immigration ‘helpline’ which ironically did not help in the slightest. I waited on the phone for 40 minutes ultimately giving up, followed by an email which still remains unanswered to this day.

A few weeks into the lockdown amid rising cases and deaths, the UK economy also found itself in an immense decline and damage. The Guardian reported six in 10 UK firms have no more than three months of cash left and was later followed by news that the department store Debenhams was preparing to file for bankruptcy. Half of UK companies seek to furlough staff over coronavirus, reported Financial Times. My clients were no exception. After informing me they were going to cut 30 percent off my regular payments, they called me the following week, giving me a three week notice to end my services because their business was doing very bad in terms of cash flow. Losing my income in Turkey would not have serious consequences with my family residing there, but here it could mean suddenly not having a place to live as I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent.

The government had released a non-statutory guidance for landlords and tenants during the coronavirus emergency. The emergency legislation meant landlord’s mortgage payments would be postponed and a process of protecting tenants in social and private accommodation from eviction would begin. Yet at the end of this period, the rent of these months would still be due in a total amount. Without a job, or a new job opportunity on the horizon it was quite unlikely I would manage this. Even though Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, has announced a scheme to support the UK’s self-employed, I am unable to apply for it because I haven’t resided in this country long enough. Those eligible consist of “a trading profit of less than £50,000 in 2018-19 or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.”

Under these circumstances, the Turkish Embassy in London was unfortunately unable to provide any assistance. Highly unprecedented and uncertain as it is, surely this crisis would highlight the importance of kindness, tolerance, empathy and goodwill? Taking into account the latest trend of stockpiling however, it seems the selfishness of humanity shines through. I messaged my landlords in a rather hopeless attempt to ask for some reduction in my rent during this period. When they refused and I expressed I would then have to move out, they said I wouldn’t get my deposit back. I had to become quite sharp in responding to their inconsiderate and insensitive approach and in the end we somehow managed to find a mutual path. Now I have a place to stay for the months of April and May. After that? I do not know.

I am only one of the thousands of Turkish or other international citizens stranded in the UK during this time. No matter how hard these times are or may be, I am thankful for the power of technology. When I took to social media to briefly mention what I am going through, I was amazed by the amount of reactions I got to my post. While some people I know buried their head in the sand, numerous people that I had not even met before on Twitter, ran to offer me help. Some of them offered a room in their houses, while some put me in touch with potential freelance opportunities. On Facebook, my friends that I had not seen for years wrote messages of support. Every single one of them proved to have such good hearts. Yet, there was one woman whose contact meant even more for me. Her message read: “Good morning. I am a writer who has lived in Britain since 1980. I am originally from Syria, and have Turkish origins.” 

I had not heard of Rana Kabbani until then. British Syrian cultural historian, writer and broadcaster’s father, Sabah Kabbani, was from a Turkish family originally from Konya, Turkey. Her paternal uncle was the renowned poet Nizar Kabbani. Her maternal family was also from a distinguished Turkish background: Kabbani's mother, Maha, was the niece of Said al Ghazzi, former prime minister of Syria. She was somebody that I would look up to with intellectual family roots, and she said to me: “The Turkish people saved millions of Syrians from being exterminated by Assad. I am eternally obliged to every single Turkish person as a result of this generously.” That was the start of a beautiful connection caused by a series of unfortunate events. In the following days she certainly proved to have the typical warm nature of Mediterranean people; my homeland and its neighbours. When I was having problems with my current room and landlord, she offered me to stay with them however long I want. It was perhaps whatever I needed the most in this difficult time; emotional support. “Evil as the world is, it remains full of extraordinary goodness & surprising encounters too. Also, you remind me of my younger self, so feel much empathy,” her message read.

In the end, I realised even the worst day of our lives lasts no longer than 24 hours, and there is still hope. There are still many good people out in the world offering a hand of help even if you have never met them in person before. At a time when the whole world is battling with an invisible monster, I have no choice but to wait and see, just like millions of other people. 

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to opinion.editorial@trtworld.com

Source: TRT World