Saudi Arabia wants their students to leave Canada. That's a bad idea.

Saudi Arabia has instructed over 15,000 of its students to leave Canada over a remark made about the Middle Eastern country’s human rights track record, CTV reported.

The kingdom’s Education Ministry spokesman Mubarak Alosaimi tweeted Monday that it will stop all training, scholarships and fellowship programs in Canada. Citizens in these programs will be urgently transferred to other countries.

Last week, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and its minister Chrystia Freeland had on Twitter called for the immediate release of arrested women’s rights activists and decried Saudi Arabia’s recent crackdown on dissidents. The tiff sees no sign of abating with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offering no apology when he spoke to journalists on Wednesday.

“Canadians have always expected [us] to speak strongly, firmly, clearly and politely about the need to respect human rights at home and around the world,” he said.

In retaliation, Riyadh has since expelled Canada’s ambassador, withdrawn its ambassador and medical patients in Canada, suspended Saudi Arabian flights to Toronto and stop purchases of wheat and barley from Canada. The approximately 7,000 Riyadh-funded students appear to be next on the list.

Involving students in any political backlash is not the wisest move. In doing so, Canada and Saudi Arabia both stand to do more self-harm than good.

Saudi Arabians make up the sixth largest group of international students in Canada. Data from Global Affairs show there were 11,650 Saudia Arabians studying in Canada in 2015, with another 5,622 on short-term educational programmes. They represent 5 percent of the total international student population, or as Arabic literature teacher at the University of Ottawa Kamal Dib estimates, around CA$400 million annually.

International students collectively add about CA$15.5 billion annually to Canada’s economy. Zia Khan, director of the Centre for Islamic Development in Halifax said to CTV Atlantic that local businesses are going to feel the impact of this loss.

“Businesses are going to feel it … When (Saudi students) go for vacations in the summertime … restaurant owners say their businesses are parched,” he said.

Small and medium enterprises could lose business from the exodus of Saudi students from their local community. Source: Shutterstock

For Saudi Arabian students, being uprooted in the middle of their studies with or without prior notice is likely to affect their academics negatively.

In addition to leaving behind a social circle they have likely already built, they face other risks such as losing class credit, going through the whole process of culture all over again and losing all the local knowledge and connections they have acquired.

Khan said Saudi students he had spoken to were dismayed.

“They themselves don’t know what’s the next move,” he said. “People have leases, they have rent, they have bank accounts.”

The Saudi Students Society of Saint Mary’s University and Dalhousie, however, told CTV Atlantic that “the Canadian government didn’t respect the Saudi law and we all stand with our government in this decision.”

Maybe patriotism is good enough to overcome all the damage, after all.

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