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Iran plane crash: Why so many Canada-bound passengers were on the flight

New details about Canadian victims of Iran plane crash
WATCH: New details about Canadian victims of Iran plane crash

EDITOR’S NOTE: On Jan. 10, the Canadian government updated the number of Canadians killed in the Jan. 8 Ukraine International Airlines crash in Iran from 63 to 57.

Limited options to visit loved ones is what led so many Canadian residents to fly on Ukraine International Airlines flights — including one that crashed in Iran earlier this week.

Younes Zangiabadi, research director of the Iranian-Canadian Congress, explained to Global News Radio that sanctions imposed on Iran left few travel options, and even fewer cost-friendly ones.

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What does the future look like for Iran-U.S. relations?

READ MORE: Here’s what we know about Iran plane crash victims who lived in Canada

“This had many, many Canadians on that flight. This is unfortunate because there are not many options available for Iranian-Canadians to choose to go and see their family and friends,” Zangiabadi told Global News 640 Toronto.

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He said this is largely because of sanctions imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“Major airlines no longer work with Iran, including Air France, British Airways, KLM, you name it,” Zangiabadi said.

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Trump: ‘I have my suspicions’ on Iran plane crash

While there are other options for Canadian residents, such as Turkish Airlines, Zangiabadi noted they are much more costly.

“This was the most affordable one — that’s why you see so many students on that flight,” he said.

Many of the Canadian residents confirmed dead after the crash, which Canadian officials have said was likely caused by an Iranian missile, are university students from across the country.

Several, including a newlywed couple, were from the University of Alberta. Schools in multiple provinces — including the University of Manitoba, the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, Dalhousie University and Queen’s University — confirmed students had died.

READ MORE: Alberta newlyweds married for just a week died in Iran plane crash

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Wednesday that Flight 752 was carrying 138 passengers bound for Canada. At least 63 passengers were Canadian citizens.

In addition to the Canadians, 82 Iranians and 11 Ukrainians were on the flight — the Ukrainian nationals included two passengers and the nine crew, according to Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, Vadym Prystaiko. There were also 10 Swedish, four Afghan, three German and three British nationals.

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Following the deadly crash, several commercial airlines began rerouting flights to avoid the Middle East airspace. Roughly 500 commercial flights travel through Iranian and Iraqi airspace daily.

Air Canada rerouted its flight from Toronto to Dubai through Egypt and Saudi Arabia to avoid travelling over Iraq.

Travel Canada issued a travel advisory on Wednesday morning urging Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel in Iran due to the “volatile security situation, the regional threat of terrorism and the risk of arbitrary detention.”

READ MORE: Air Canada, other airlines reroute flights in Middle East amid Iran-U.S. crisis

Mohamad Tavakoli, a professor at the University of Toronto who specializes in Iranian history, told Global News that this latest incident has made the thought of travelling frightening for Iranian-Canadians.

“It’s a really personal dilemma,” he said. “They don’t want to take a flight that’s going to, you know, lead to their death.”

He noted that the issue affects Iranians living in Canada and America, and has become more serious amid Trump’s presidency.

“During the Obama administration, after the nuclear deal, a lot of sanctions were relieved. Trump’s policy has intensified the sanctions that at one point were the UN sanctions.”

Trudeau asked if U.S. bears some responsibility for Iran plane crash
Trudeau asked if U.S. bears some responsibility for Iran plane crash

In addition to sanctions, Tavakoli said the U.S. travel ban on Muslim-majority countries has made travelling very difficult. He noted it’s why some international Iranian students have left studies in the U.S. for Canada.

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“Students who are not American citizens, they cannot go back and forth. They’re leaving the United States,” he said.

“I’ve had a number of students, after the travel ban was imposed on Iranians, they decided to move from universities in the United States to Canada, to the University of Toronto.”

— With files from Global News reporters Hannah Jackson and Kerri Breen