150 Saudi students ordered to leave London this month amid political spat

More than 150 Saudi Arabian students in London are being forced to relocate by the end of the month after receiving an order from their country to leave Canada.

Western University and Fanshawe College students have until the end of August to leave Canada

The Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Ottawa. Saudi Arabia says it is ordering Canada's ambassador to leave the country and freezing all new trade and investment transactions with Canada in a spat over human rights. (David Kawai/Canadian Press)

More than 150 Saudi Arabian students in London are being forced to relocate by the end of the month after receiving an order from their country to leave Canada.

On Monday, the Saudi government emailed a notice to its international students who receive funding through the nation's educational scholarship. They were ordered to transfer elsewhere — such as the UK or U.S. — to complete or restart their post-secondary and post-graduate education.

Students across Canada received a notice from the Saudi government that prompted them to leave the country by the end of the month.

There are currently 21 Fanshawe College and 131 Western University students from Saudi Arabia, officials told CBC News.

The "unexpected" move comes after Canada criticized the Middle Eastern country for its arrests of two women's rights and civil society activists.

Raif Badawi was arrested in 2012, a year before his wife and children were granted political asylum in Canada. His sister Samar Badawi was arrested in Saudi last week.

And the issue has now left many students with no choice but to pick up and leave.

More than students affected

As a result of the abrupt announcement, affected students in London have banded together for emotional support.

Among them is a 25-year-old Western University Engineering student who's helping organize the moving efforts. CBC News has decided to withhold his identity due to his fear of possible retribution.

"It was shocking. It was unexpected. You're sleeping and you wake up the next day and suddenly you're requested to leave in almost 30 days," said the Eastern Saudi Arabian native.

"It's the end of my educational journey and for whatever reason I have to leave," he added.

He is a part of a WhatsApp group that includes more than 100 affected students in London.

Transferring to a new school in a new country is one thing; saying farewell to a fully established life in a host country is another, he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, left, told a news conference Monday that Canada stands by its comments about human rights in Saudi Arabia under King Salman, right. (Jimmy Jeong/Canadian Press, Alex Brandon/Associated Press )

Many of the students in London are now forced to sell their cars, pay off any outstanding debts, prematurely end their home leases and cancel all other commitments.

Many of the students are mature with families and children, he said.

"I have devoted my time right now to help them out," he said, noting that he's now lived in Canada for five years.

Timeline: Less than a month

So, what does it mean to have to pick up and leave in less than a month?

For the students in London, they've come up with a five-part to-do list, said the organizer of the moving initiatives.

It includes:

  • Transferring university and college credits
  • Breaking a lease
  • Transferring banking and financial information
  • Booking airlines and transportation to a new country
  • Learning how to respond to other Canadians about the political situation

The 25-year-old said the Saudi government has been very resourceful with helping complete the check list.

Although the situation is a shocking one, he extended his gratitude to the country that's helped him and others like him throughout the years.

"The country has done so much for the students … You're under the control of somebody who's been doing you a favour for a long time."

He said his government covers medical, accommodation, travel and educational expenses for its scholarship students.

Students regularly receive other notices on how Saudi students should behave in their host countries.

Throughout the years, students have also received other notices, including a seven-part order on how to behave abroad. Sixth on the list is an order not to engage with discussions or conferences that deal with religious and political groups, among others.

"I absolutely don't have a choice. You have no choice but to leave," he added.

Fanshawe and Western officials said they're monitoring the situation.