International students struggle to access information amid COVID-19 crisis

Concordia University's downtown campus is seen in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Montreal is considered a university town and many from across the world dream of studying here.
But some international students say navigating the process of coming into the country on their own during the COVID-19 crisis is a nightmare.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me,” said Bhavya Mittal, a student from India currently enrolled at Concordia University.
With classes set to start next week, some McGill students are still unclear if they’ll get into the country.
They say it’s difficult to determine if they’re allowed in or not.
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“Whether or not their studies at McGill constitute an exceptional circumstance that would allow them across the border back into the country. There’s just a lot of information that students don’t have,” said Brooklyn Frizzle, vice-president of university affairs of Students’ Society of McGill University.
According to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) foreign students are only allowed into the country if they prove they have no other choice but to be in Canada. That usually means having mandatory in-person classes such as lab courses.
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But once they are accepted into the country, they have to quarantine for 14 days and they are responsible for finding their own accommodation.
“Some of them are panicking because they don’t know exactly how safe COVID here is and they’re also panicking because they have to look for an Airbnb,” said Saqlane Mehdi from the Concordia University Student Exchange Association.
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Mehdi says that traditionally, students feel more comfortable getting guidance from other students instead of reaching out to the university.
However, he says his association is taking on more work than usual trying to fill in the gap the university is leaving.
“I think they’re bombarded with a lot of emails and they have to figure out how to respond to them,” Mehdi said.
Both McGill and Concordia universities say they are trying to provide guidance.
“There are resources: the International Student Office (ISO) offers a range of services to international students,” said Concordia University spokesperson Vannina Maestracci.
McGill University says they are planning to help students staying at their residences.
“At McGill, individual accommodations and food delivery services will be available for any student needing to self-isolate. As indicated earlier, residence students from abroad will self-isolate in their private rooms equipped with private bathrooms,” said Shirley Cardenas, a spokesperson for the institution. “Check-ins are planned by our residence life team.”
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Students say it’s not enough.
“I would like the government or my university to take initiative for us instead of us asking them for help all the time,” said Mittal. “I know it’s a very busy time for them as well, but I hope something happens.”
Mittal says in the meantime she will take online courses and cross her fingers she will be back in Montreal next semester.
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