‘It’s out of my hands’: Libyan student struggles to stay stateside

Ibrahim Albadri stands outside of the College of Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology building on May 11, 2017.

Jenna Kuczkowski

“The idea of having the money, but I can’t reach it, kills me,” said Ibrahim Albadri, a junior applied engineering major at Kent State.

Since last year, 21-year-old Albadri has been struggling to regain access to his saved tuition money in his Libyan bank account and is now at risk of being forced to leave the United States if he can’t pay the university.

CONFLICT HISTORY AND ECONOMIC STRUGGLES

According to BBC news reports, Muammar Gaddafi ruled as dictator for nearly 42 years before in 2011 he was thrust out of power in the search for democracy and elections by the people of Libya. After Gaddafi’s reign there was no figure of authority in full control. The National Transitional Council (NTC), a rebel leadership council, which had helped remove the Gaddafi government, declared Libya ”liberated” in October 2011 and took over the running of the country. Leading up to the end of Gaddafi’s rule, many armed militias had formed within the nation but when NTC tried to impose order, they failed. In August 2012, Libya held its first democratic election and put the General National Congress into power. Then in June 2014, voters chose a new parliament to replace the GNC, the Council of Representatives (CoR). This new government relocated to the eastern city of Tobruk, leaving Tripoli susceptible to control by powerful militia groups. These new militia groups, especially the Islamic State extremist militia, saw the change in power as an opportunity to gain control of several coastal cities, including Derna and Sirte. Finally, in late 2015, the UN agreed to intervene and create a new “unity government” called the Presidency Council. The problem was both the CoR and GNC leaders, as well as the militias, refused to acknowledge the authority of the new government. Thus Libya remains in unrest as different political figures and militias struggle for power with the country’s economy and civilians at their mercy.

Due to political unrest and currency shortages caused by a civil war, the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) has stopped all international transactions with the exceptions of medical or education costs. The bank also limits monthly withdrawals by its citizens and insists that all transactions must be approved first, according to various Libyan news agencies and statements from the CBL.

Unlike the quick ATM access to cash in the U.S., transactions through the CBL could take over a year to be approved by the government and the money disbursed. 

Albadri, who came to Kent in 2015, has long been feeling the effects of a failing system. For every semester, as well as this upcoming semester, Albadri has submitted a request for tuition from the CBL, but has only received three semesters of tuition out of the six semesters he’s requested.

Since Albadri has been unable to reach his money to pay for his last two semesters at Kent, he now owes the university two semesters worth of tuition. In Fall 2016 when his money didn’t arrive, the university allowed him to continue taking classes on good faith. When the money never arrived, Albadri enrolled again on good faith for his Spring 2017 classes, but they were dropped in March after the Bursar’s Office told him he could no longer continue going to class. 

If he is unable to pay again by this August, his Form I-20 that allows him to study here will be terminated, and he will be forced to return to Tripoli, Libya, where his family lives.

Between December 15, 2016, and January 31, 2016, there were 293 abductions in Tripoli, according to the Tripoli Criminal Investigation Department. In addition, there have been 482 attacks on vehicles and 503 shootings that have left a trail of 118 unidentified bodies just within the city.

“Growing up in Libya was fun,” said Albadri. “See so let me tell you, Libya was fine until, even after the revolution, everything was fine until the elections happened.”

Recently, Albadri has started a GoFundMe page as a last hope to raise money so he can stay stateside.

“When we hire Libyan journalists, we pay them in cash dollars or transfers to bank accounts in Malta,” said David Kirkpatrick, Middle East correspondent for the New York Times. “Because if you put money into a Libyan bank, you may never see it again.”

Kirkpatrick, who has worked for the New York Times since 2004, said there are two main issues with banks in Libya that are creating this problem for international students and Libyan citizens alike.

“One is the difficulty of getting money out of Libyan banks right now, the other is that the Central Bank of Libya, which is basically the Libyan treasury, is trying to cut back on things like paying for student tuition abroad,” Kirkpatrick said.

Kirkpatrick said because of the civil strife in Libya since 2011, the country has had its oil output cut back or shut down completely at times. Oil being virtually the only source of money for the Libyan government and economy, a shutdown of output means a shortage of money for the country.

“On top of that, the rival factions fighting each other in Libya are all drawing on the Central Bank money in various ways to pay salaries and buy supplies for their fighters through various diversions,” Kirkpatrick said. “And yes, the same Central Bank has been paying all sides in the fighting. So, at the end of the day, its supplies of cash are dwindling.”

The black market has also contributed to this issue after the value of the dinar skyrocketed due to the government trying to enforce an artificially high rate of exchange. This lead to the official banking system limiting the amount of money people can move out of the country, Kirkpatrick said.

“Even my dad’s money, since there’s a currency shortage, they only allow you to withdraw 500 dinar a month,” Albadri said. “So basically all of our money is stuck in the bank. Even if I want to pay my tuition through the black market right now, it would cost me $200,000.”

THE CURRENCY PROBLEM IN LIBYA AND THE BLACK MARKET

“The facts that one, not much revenue is coming into the country while a lot keeps going out to import food, etcetera and two, the CBL’s funds are dwindling,” said David Kirkpatrick, Middle East correspondent for the New York Times. “Both are putting downward pressure on the exchange rate of the Libyan currency.” Because of this, Kirkpatrick said that the government tries to enforce an artificially high rate of exchange. “That leads to a black market in dollars,” Kirkpatrick said. “So you could hypothetically move Libyan dinars out of the country at a high rate through the official banking system at the official rate, and then bring that money back as dollars and buy a lot more Libyan dinars on the black market.” Currently, the official rate of exchange is 1.4 dinar equates 1 USD. According to Kirkpatrick and Ibrahim Albadri, each official one dinar, is worth much more if sold on the black market. Earlier this year, the price was up to 6.10 dinar on the blackmarket for each 1 legal dinar. “To stop that, the government puts limits on what people can move out of the country through the official banking system,” Kirkpatrick said. Currently, this limit allows citizens to move a maximum of 7,500 dinar out of the country but only for medical and education use. In addition, every father in the country is only allowed to withdraw a maximum of 400 dinar per child he has every month to pay expenditures. 

Because Albadri is an international student, he must meet the requirements of his Form I-20.

According to the Global Education Office, international students obtain a Form I-20 that then allows students to apply for a F-1 visa, which permits students to remain in the U.S. until they complete their program.

Undergraduate students are required to be enrolled in 12 credits per semester and graduate students are required to be enrolled in eight per semester to meet 1-20 requirements. Students receive an “annual vacation” period over the summer in which they are not required to be registered for classes.

Staff at the Global Education Office were not only the ones who encouraged Albadri to start his GoFundMe page, but they also helped him receive extra time to raise the money.

“After Kent dropped my classes, (The Global Education Office) did not terminate my I-20, and they gave me an extension till next semester in August for my money to arrive and try to solve this problem,” Albadri said. “If the money doesn’t come in by August then they’ll terminate my I-20, and I’ll have to go back to Libya.”

Albadri was even able to keep his job on the Technology Support team at the university thanks to the office, who talked to Career Services for him and allowed him to continue working until August.

“Going back right now would be crazy with all the militias in the capital,” Albadri said. “Some of the militias aren’t getting money from the government anymore so they’re now kidnapping people and holding them for ransom to get money from their families even if they can’t pay. I know people that have been kidnapped; Some of them got back, some of them did not. My cousin got kidnapped and killed last October. They basically chopped him to pieces and put him in a bag.”

Albadri said he wants to finish his degree because he’s already a junior, and he knows that if he goes back to Libya now, there will be no way for him to continue his current education.

“I’m not going to restart three years of my life and start a new major,” Albadri said. “Plus the education level in Libya is so bad, that’s one of the main reasons I came here, like over there you basically don’t learn anything.”

Albadri said he’s always loved computers and when he was younger he enjoyed taking them apart and modifying them. Someday, he hopes to start his own business — the how and where are just unclear at the moment.

“I had this discussion with my brother the other day about whether or not I should stay in the United States and get a green card,” Albadri said. “But I love my home country. We have the best beaches. He got me thinking though about y’know, is it safe to start a family in Libya? And at what point is this all just too much?”

Jenna Kuczkowski is the managing editor, contact her at [email protected]