British Columbia

Saudi Arabian students confused and sad at sudden departure from B.C., adviser says

The move by Saudi government officials, which includes the withdrawal of student scholarships, comes amid a diplomatic row between the kingdom and Canada, after a tweet from Global Affairs called for the release of a Canadian prisoner.

Thousands of students across Canada ordered to leave amid diplomatic row

Aboubakar Idriss, academic advisor at Sprott Shaw language college in Victoria, said he is shocked and saddened by the news that his Saudi students will have to leave the country. (CBC)

Hundreds of Saudi Arabian students in B.C. will be leaving the country by the end of the month after the kingdom directed them to relocate.

The move by Saudi government officials, which includes the withdrawal of student scholarships, comes amid a diplomatic row between the kingdom and Canada after a tweet from Global Affairs called for the release of imprisoned Saudi human rights activists. 

Since then the Canadian ambassador has been sent home and trade deals have been halted.

'They're wondering what's next'

There were 8,310 Saudi students enrolled in Canadian post-secondary schools from January to May 2018, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada's website, with 1,645 of those in B.C. 

Aboubakar Idriss, academic adviser at the Victoria campus of Sprott Shaw Language College, said the 13 Saudi students enrolled there are confused and sad to be leaving.

"Because everything happened so quickly, the majority just have a lot of questions… They're wondering what's next, what do we do," Idriss told Jason D'Souza​, host of CBC's All Points West.

Both government-sponsored and self-sponsored students are being directed to leave Canada by the end of August and Idriss said students have a lot of arrangements to make in a short period of time.

Many have leases on houses and cars that they'll have to manage.

"They have a lot on their minds. Some of their kids are supposed to start school next month," he said.

Bittersweet welcome

Idriss said he greeted one student for the first time on Tuesday morning — but it was a bittersweet welcome.

"I told him, 'Welcome to Canada." It was his first day, and when he left the school I told him goodbye, because he's not coming back again... He told me his dream was to move here, he has been thinking and planning it for a long time and now he has to leave," Idriss said.

Some students are already in their third or fourth year of study and are worried about the future of their education, Idriss said. 

But he says he is encouraging them to think about how to continue building on what they've accomplished so far in Canada.

"I almost lost my voice today because we've been having really long conversations," Idriss said.

"I'm really overwhelmed because of the emotions of this morning. I only hope that everything will end up well for everyone."

To hear the full interview listen to media below:

From Victoria to the Okanagan

The wave of repercussion is being felt right across the country, including Okanagan College in Kelowna, which expects to lose 65 Saudi Arabian students.

"We have just received a message from the Saudi cultural bureau to inform us that they are no longer going to be sponsoring students as of the end of this month," said college president Jim Hamilton.

He says the school will lose $850,000 in revenue due to the international spat, but that his college's focus remains clear.

"Our primary mandate is going to be to take care of our students ... from Saudi or anywhere else."

Administrators at the college are seeking further clarity from the Saudi Cultural Bureau.

280 UBC students

Saudi Arabian students at the University of British Columbia have also been ordered to cease studies.

Of the 280 enrolled, around 80 per cent are on scholarships from the Saudi Arabian Cultural Bureau.

"This is a difficult time for all of our Saudi Arabian students, academics and their families. 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," UBC President Santa J. Ono said in a statement Wednesday.

"Understandably, many of our students have questions about how the current dispute will affect them now and in the future, and we are working hard to help them manage with the limited information that is available."

With files from Yvette Brend, All Points West, and Daybreak South

Read more from CBC British Columbia


  • An earlier version of this story said that a tweet by Global Affairs Canada had called for the release of a Canadian prisoner. In fact, the tweet called for the release of Saudi human rights activists.
    Aug 09, 2018 7:46 AM PT