ISTANBUL (Reuters) – As the coronavirus epidemic took hold, Duygu Yucelen – like thousands of her fellow Turks – made the decision to fly home to be with her family for Ramadan rather than spend the Muslim fasting month locked down abroad.
But the conditions of her return mean she is now fasting alone in a student dormitory, still far from her loved ones.
“I learned to be happy by myself in a room. There will be times that we will remember this year and this unique experience I am living right now,” she said from quarantine in Bingol, 900 km (560 miles) east of her family home in Ankara.
Yucelen, a chemical engineer who had been conducting postgraduate research in Budapest, is one of up to 25,000 being flown back from about 70 countries in Turkey’s biggest ever repatriation. All of them must spend their first 14 days after arrival in isolation in one of 77 cities.
Yucelen, 28 has been billeted in a student dormitory with four single beds and four small desks.
During Ramadan, which began on Friday, Muslims traditionally join family and friends when breaking their fast at sunset and go to mosques to pray. But the government curbs on large public gatherings imposed to contain the coronavirus mean priorities have changed.
Yucelen now joins her parents each evening for food via videolink.
“I felt sad that my parents are breaking their fast alone,” said Yucelen, who has seven more days of monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19 before she can take a state-funded bus home. Turkey has recorded nearly 115,000 cases, the seventh highest tally in the world.
The government said the repatriation was designed to reunite families for Ramadan.
Most of the 20 quarantinees who Reuters spoke to said they were not fasting, but were very content with quarantine conditions and daily medical checkups.
“I feel a bit bitter that I will not be able to share my fast-breaking meal with other people during this Ramadan but I am happy that I returned from abroad, and will at least spend half of this month with my family,” said Rugeyya Aldim, 24.
The civil engineer, who had to cut short her internship in Vienna, is quarantined in a dorm in the central city of Sivas.
“I am speaking with my family in Kars and we pray for the health of all humanity,” Aldim said.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and John Stonestreet)