Turkey's French teachers denied work permits amid Ankara-Paris row

Over a dozen French instructors at a Turkish university are facing expulsion from the country after being denied work permits during a diplomatic row between Ankara and Paris, AFP reported on Monday.

Some of the instructors at Istanbul’s prestigious Galatasaray University, regarded as the "flagship of Franco-Turkish cooperation," told AFP that they feel like they are caught in the crosshairs of an at times personal war of words between the Turkish and French leader.

Turkey and France are at odds over a string of issues, including Turkey’s military operations and Ankara’s territorial claims to offshore gas and oil in the eastern Mediterranean.

In October, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blasted Macron over what he called the French leaders problem with Islam and Muslims.

"Macron needs treatment on a mental level," Erdoğan said, prompting Paris to recall its envoy to Turkey.

The French teachers’ problems began at the height of heated exchanges between Macron and Erdoğan, AFP said, with the instructors being unexpectedly asked to take a Turkish language proficiency test while waiting for their work permits to be renewed.

But only six instructors who reached the advanced B2 level would be allowed to stay, AFP said, leaving the other 15 in limbo.

The new requirement, set by the Higher Education Council (YÖK), the agency said, coincided with France's decision to impose a similar requirement on teachers, as well as imams, from a number of countries, including Turkey.

"Requiring a certain level of Turkish -- why not? But here, everything was done completely arbitrarily and very suddenly," on professor, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, said.

According to YÖK rules, the certificates could only be issued by Turkish government's Yunus Emre Institute, which was not organising the tests due to the COVID-19 pandemic, AFP said.

Meanwhile, the instructors, whose future remains in limbo, are unsure of what awaits them when in-person schooling resumes.

"I go out as little as possible to avoid police checks," one teacher told AFP. "I feel like I am under house arrest."