Over a hundred Saudi students studying at the University of Alberta could be affected by the political tension between Canada and Saudi Arabia.
On August 6, Saudi Arabia told Saudi students studying in Canada that their scholarships for studying abroad are being suspended and to move their studies elsewhere, such as the United States or the United Kingdom. The announcement follows Canadian criticism of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia which have sparked backlash.
Anne Bailey, a spokesperson for the U of A, said the university isn’t publically commenting on the decision by Saudi Arabia at this time. However, she confirmed that approximately 130 Saudi students are studying at the university.
According to the Alberta government, 233 international students studying in the province listed Saudi Arabia as their country of citizenship from 2016-2017, and that about 130 of those students are studying at the U of A, with 50 of them completing their medical residency. University of Calgary has the second highest number of Saudi students in the province, with 72 students studying there.
Kate Toogood, a spokesperson for the Alberta Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt, said the ministry is working with post-secondary institutions to assess the impact of Saudi Arabia’s decision on Alberta schools.
Some universities such as the University of British Columbia, which has about 280 Saudi students, are encouraging those who may be affected to reach out for support.
“This is a difficult time for all of our Saudi Arabian students, academics and their families,” said UBC president Santa Ono. “Our hope is that the dispute can be resolved to allow our students to continue their studies here at UBC and to remain an important part of our community.”
The decision to pull Saudi students from studying in Canada comes as a response to mounting criticism of human rights abuses in the kingdom.
In a tweet sent on August 2, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed alarm that Saudi Arabia had imprisoned human rights activist Samar Badawi. Samar is the sister of Raif Badawi, who is also an activist.
In 2012, Raif was arrested and charged with “insulting Islam through electronic channels.” Later, he was given a sentence of 1,000 lashes.
“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,” Freeland tweeted.
Following Freeland’s tweet, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador to the country.
According to the CBC, the Saudi Students’ Association of Canada has told students not to speak with media.
The Gateway reached out to several Saudi students at the U of A and several student groups but did not hear back.
Update (August 13, 5:04 p.m.): Following the publication of this article, the Alberta government later clarified that there are currently 32 Saudi students at the U of A working on their post-graduate medical training.