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Saudi students fret over future after Riyadh-Ottawa rift


AFP
Ottawa
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.
Saudi 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.
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 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, but I cannot do it. I just can't," she said.
For Samira, the complications are similar. She and her husband were married in Jeddah on Tuesday, a day after the Saudi measure was announced. They'd planned to live in Canada until he completes his studies, but at the wedding she felt"broken, disappointed," she said.
"I am about to quit my life to go live with my husband in Canada, where he owns a house. Now, I don't know where we will go. All our plans were smashed with one decision, and we weren't even married yet."
According to Canadian government figures, there were 192,000 international students from 200 countries enrolled in Canadian universities and colleges last year. Saudi students, who currently number about 8,000, are among the largest group.
Students face far greater difficulties as they seek transfers, less than a month before the start of classes.
"This is a major disruption for them. They may lose a semester or a whole year of studies," said Pari Johnston of Universities Canada, an association which represents 96 universities.
It is not easy to just relocate people who have been living in Canada for years."It's just not easy. I don't know what to do," Naseem said.
"Now, we have to find a place where we are both accepted, and where we can pursue our studies. Is it possible? I don't think so," she said.
The school has 246 Saudi students, the majority of whom are enrolled in medicine, science or engineering programs.
In Western Canada, 150 Saudi students at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan were told they have a month to leave the country.

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