Amid growing diplomatic tensions between Saudi Arabia and Canada, the middle eastern country has rescinded scholarships for all of its students (over 16,000) studying in Canadian universities.
This move is the latest in a series of Saudi responses to a tweet on Thursday from Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, in which she calls for the release of Samar Badawi – sister of activist Raif Badawi – from prison.
Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.
— Chrystia Freeland (@cafreeland) August 2, 2018
According to a report from Saudi-owned media outlet, Al Arabiya, the country announced the “suspension of training, scholarships and fellowships to Canada and the transfer [of] all its students in that state to other countries.”
In a tweet, Bessma Momani (expert on Middle East issues and a political science professor at the University of Waterloo) responded to this move, stating that this is awful and unjust for students who will now be scrambling to figure out what to do with their lives.
Just got word that indeed Saudis are telling their students (16,000+) in Canada to return home. Scholarships will be rescinded. This is awful for these students, many who are not likely to be in Canada over the summer but now scrambling with what to do with their lives. Unjust!
— Bessma Momani (@b_momani) August 6, 2018
How does this affect students in Victoria?
The University of Victoria currently has 51 Saudi Arabian students (26 undergraduate/25 graduate) enrolled in the Summer 2018 session, and 34 students expected to attend the Winter 2018 session.
In a statement to Victoria Buzz, Jim Dunsdon, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs said:
“We value all of our international students and are disappointed to learn that students from Saudi Arabia may not be able to achieve their educational aspirations at UVic.”
“They bring a unique perspective and diversity to our community and enrich our campus population in many ways. However, it is really too early to tell what the implications are for the university and our Saudi Arabian students.”
At the moment, Camosun College has thirty-two Saudi Arabian students enrolled in the King Abdullah Scholarship Program in their Bachelor of Business Administration program. The college also issued a statement to Victoria Buzz following the Saudi order:
Frayed diplomatic ties
In an earlier response to Freeland’s tweet, the Foreign Ministry of Saudi Arabia issued a statement ordering Canadian Ambassador Dennis Horak to leave the country within 24 hours.
The same statement also recalled the Saudi’s own ambassador to Canada back to Riyadh “for consultation”, and halted all business and investment transactions between the two countries.
“The Kingdom views the Canadian position as an affront to the Kingdom that requires a sharp response to prevent any party from attempting to meddle with Saudi sovereignty,” reads the announcement.
Read the full statement below:
The Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs responded by expressing concern over Saudi Arabia’s actions, but resolving to stand their ground.
“Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women’s rights and freedom of expression around the world. We will never hesitate to promote these values and we believe that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy,” Freeland stated in a release.
Flights to Canada suspended
In another explicit display of the country’s displeasure with Canada, Saudi Arabia’s state airline has suspended all flights to and from Toronto.
Saudi Airlines tweeted the announcement on Tuesday morning, stating that the suspension will take effect on August 13th, and travellers needing assistance to rebook their flights should call 1-855-588-0999.
— SAUDIA | السعودية (@Saudi_Airlines) August 7, 2018