Caught in diplomatic row, Saudi students to move out of Canada

Ottawa, August 9

Naseem waited three years to be accepted to a Canadian postgraduate programme. With two years left before she would receive her PhD, the Saudi student’s plans have been upended, thanks to a diplomatic spat.

The kingdom this week suspended all scholarships to Canada as part of a rupture between the two countries over Ottawa’s criticism of Riyadh’s human rights record. Saudi students will be relocated to other countries.

For Naseem, that could mean she and her husband, who is studying to be a medical doctor, may never earn their degrees. And she feels totally lost, having left Saudi Arabia just after her father passed away in 2017 to pursue her academic dream, 6,500 miles (10,500 km) away from home. “Everything is gone,” said the mother of two, who lives in Toronto but spoke to AFP during a family visit to Riyadh.

“I still have two years to get a PhD, and my husband needs two years to graduate as a doctor. We had the perfect plan. Now we might have to start from zero,” she said.

In Ontario, where one in five of all Saudi students are enrolled, the recall could cost “tens of millions of dollars”, according to the Council of Ontario Universities. “We’re still trying to sort out the situation,” the University of Ottawa’s Veronique Vallee told AFP. “Our main concern is the wellbeing of the students.” The school has 246 Saudi students, the majority of whom are enrolled in medicine, science or engineering programmes. Medical students will be hit hard, with 800 Saudis being trained by Canada. — AFP


In numbers

192,000 
International students in Canadian universities, colleges from 200 countries 

8,000 
Saudi students alone

$15.5 bn
International students’ contribution to Canadian economy last year

$30,000-$80,000
Annual loss of fee to universities


What prompted the dispute?

A tweet issued by Canada’s Global Affairs Ministry decrying arrest and detention of two women bloggers and activists, and urging Saudi authorities to immediately free them.

Saudi reply…

The Saudi Foreign Ministry took exception to the wording of the tweet, calling it an attempt by Canada to interfere with the country’s internal affairs. Saudi Arabia announced it was suspending future trade with Canada and severing diplomatic ties.

What’s affected?

Saudi Arabia has cancelled scholarships of 16,000 of its students studying in Canada, also ordering them to leave the country and find academic programmes elsewhere. Saudi Arabia has also cut diplomatic ties with Canada, frozen all new trade and investment and cancelled flights via its national carrier to Toronto.

  • students
  • Saudi
  • Canada
  • OTTAWA
  • Naseem