August 31 was set as a deadline for Saudi students to leave Canada after the latter called for the release of civil society activists jailed in the kingdom, but dozens of students are now reportedly filing asylum claims in a bid to stay in the country and pursue their education there.
The CBC cited a Montreal-based activist from Saudi Arabia, Omar Abdulaziz, who said he was working with those students, whose lives had been affected by the diplomatic spat between Ottawa and Riyadh.
“They want to keep studying here in Canada. They don’t want to lose all their credits and the time that they’ve been here studying and working, so they’re at least looking for a solution,” he said.
According to the media outlet, over 8,000 Saudi students in Canada had their lives disrupted when Riyadh set an August 31 deadline for them to pack their bags and leave Canada.
“They had plans, they had dreams and suddenly you’re telling them to just go back home. They don’t know what to do, they seem lost, it was like a shock,” the 37-year-old Abdulaziz told the CBC.
Individuals are entitled to file asylum claims in Canada if they can prove that they would face persecution on the basis of race, religion, political views, nationality or membership in a particular social group in their home country.
“If the consequence is that you’re not going to get scholarship in the future, that would not rise to the level of persecution for a claim. If the consequence is that you’re going to be thrown into a jail for years or be sent to a re-education camp, then that would constitute persecution,” the CBC cited immigration lawyer Peter Edelmann as saying.
According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) rules, Saudi students can stay because their visas are issued by Canada despite what Riyadh may demand – they are eligible to pursue their education in Canada as long as their permits are valid.
In response to Ottawa’s statements, Riyadh declared the Canadian ambassador a persona-non-grata, giving him 24 hours to leave the country, and halted fresh trade ties and investment transactions between the two countries. Saudi Arabia also announced its decision to suspend student exchange programs with Canada and move Saudi students studying in Canada elsewhere.