‘We’d love to stay’: Saudi students in Canada scramble to leave amid tensions between countries
A Saudi man studying at a Halifax university says recent tensions between Canada and Saudi Arabia have thrown students’ lives upside down.
Thousands of Saudi students in Canada under the King Abdullah Scholarship Program are now scrambling to move out of the country, just weeks before the start of the new school year.
WATCH: Students from Saudi Arabia living in Canada have found themselves caught in the middle of their government’s ongoing feud. Global’s Jeremy Keefe spoke with one of those students, who says he wants nothing more than to continue to study in Canada.
Global News is protecting the identity of the man, who says that the Saudi government has instructed students not to speak to media.
“I didn’t think something like that could happen,” he said.
Earlier this week, the Saudi government announced it was pulling scholarships for Saudi students studying in Canada. The move came after Saudi Arabia became infuriated by Canada’s demand last week that jailed activists in the kingdom be released.
In addition to pulling out their students, Saudi Arabia has also expelled the Canadian ambassador, stopped state airline flights to Canada, and barred Canadian wheat imports.
The student, who has been in Halifax for a few years now, is among 785 students from Saudi Arabia enrolled in a Nova Scotia university. Across the country, there are more than 8,000 students who are now scrambling to transfer to schools in other countries and uproot their lives.
“It’s a big decision to make. It’s not easy to just change your whole education and future within less than a month. It’s hard to think of all the things you have to do before you leave the country in less than a month,” he said.
“I think it’s very hard for everyone and for the students to think of alternatives in a short time.”
He says many fellow students have leases, car payments and personal connections that will now have to be severed. He showed Global News an online buy and sell page used by local students, which saw upwards of 300 posts overnight from Saudi students looking to sell their possessions in advance of the big move.
In addition, they’re concerned not all of their university credits will transfer to a new institution, although some American schools have already offered to extend their application deadlines for Saudi students.
“Everyone has a different situation. Some of them are very close to graduating, some of them only have four months to graduate. Some of them are doing residency for many years, they only have three, four months to graduate and now they have to go back and think of another university and start that all over again,” he said.
He goes on to say that many students don’t want to leave behind the reputation of a Canadian education.
“Canada is an amazing country. I think that most of us are attached to Canada. We’d love to stay and […] the universities are strong, very good,” he said.
Meanwhile, Nova Scotia says it is ready to “mitigate any impacts” if it loses more than 50 Saudi medical residents as part of the scholarship withdrawal.
Nova Scotia has a shortage of doctors, and Health Minister Randy Delorey said Thursday losing the residents would “be possibly linked to some inconveniences.”
— With files from Jeremy Keefe and The Canadian Press
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