Back in early August of 2018, Saudi Arabia took steps to cut ties with Canada. The Riyadh government blames “blatant interference” from Canada into their domestic affairs for the split, after a Canadian Minister used Twitter to speak out about the imprisonment of a Saudi writer for “insulting Islam.” The first thing they did was to suspend direct flights from Saudi Arabian Airlines into Canada. The same day, they directed all Saudi students studying in Canada to return home.
An estimate at the time said that more than 15,000 Saudi students were in Canada, 9,000 of whom have long-term educational plans. They were given a deadline of August 31 to leave Canada.
A month later, many of those Saudi students have complied. Riyadh has not backed down on its orders, though an allowance has been made for approximately 1,000 medical students to finish their education, provided they say nothing critical of Saudi Arabia and speak to no journalists.
Despite the deadline having passed, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has said that any student may remain for the duration of their student visa, with the possibility of applying for permanent residency. Despite that, over 7,000 have already left. And at least 20 are applying for asylum.
One anonymous student, studying in Ontario, spoke to the BBC about his fears. Since arriving in Canada, he’s been critical of Riyadh on his social media accounts.
“I will do whatever it takes to stay in Canada, because I truly fear for my life,” he said, a fear influenced by the May 2018 imprisonment of a British Columbia student for her tweets about how the Saudi government treats women. She has been jailed since then with no access to a lawyer or court.
The anonymous student is applying for asylum because without his Saudi-sponsored scholarship, he will not be able to continue paying tuition in Canada, which is grounds for losing his student visa.