Saudi Arabia is pulling thousands of students from Canada in an escalating human-rights feud

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  • Saudi Arabia says it will withdraw all of its students studying in Canada in an intensifying feud between the two countries.
  • A Saudi government source told The Globe and Mail that more than 15,000 Saudis were studying in Canada on government-funded courses or grants.
  • Local media also reported that Saudi Arabia had been instructed not to transfer its patients to Canada for medical treatment.
  • The feud between the two countries has escalated quickly since it began Friday, when Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs raised concerns about the kingdom’s human-rights record.

Saudi Arabia says it will withdraw all of its students studying in Canada in an intensifying rift between the two countries over the kingdom’s human-rights record.

The Saudi Arabian Cultural Bureau, a wing of the country’s Ministry of Education, announced on its website Monday that all training and scholarship programs in Canada would be suspended by the end of the Islamic calendar year in September. It gave no further details.

According to The Globe and Mail, citing a Saudi government source, more than 15,000 Saudis are studying in Canada on government-funded courses or grants at universities, colleges, or other institutions.

Accompanying family members will also be expected to leave Canada, which could bring the number of Saudi nationals departing up to 20,000, the source added.

A Financial Times reporter, Ahmed Al Omran, citing Saudi state TV, tweeted that students would be transferred to schools in the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

Local media also reported that Saudi Arabia had been instructed not to transfer its patients to Canada for medical treatment.

The feud appears to have begun with a tweet

The political activist Samar Badawi was presented with an International Women of Courage Award by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama in 2012.

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The political activist Samar Badawi was presented with an International Women of Courage Award by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama in 2012.
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Alex Wong/Getty Images

The feud between Canada and Saudi Arabia has escalated quickly since it began Friday, when Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs raised concerns about the kingdom’s human-rights record following the arrests of several prominent human-rights activists.

Among the arrested is Samar Badawi, an award-winning women’s-rights activist who sought to abolish the country’s male-guardianship laws. She is also the sister of Raif Badawi, a jailed rights blogger who has gained global recognition.

Canada tweeted that it was “gravely concerned” about a new wave of arrests of women’s-rights activists in the kingdom, which angered Saudi Arabia and prompted the country to retaliate with a series of diplomatic measures aimed at signaling its strength.

Within a day, Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador, froze all new investment, and canceled all flights to Toronto.

Canada said it was “seriously concerned” by the escalation but vowed to continue to “stand up for human rights in Canada and around the world.”

The United Nations has sounded the alarm over what it considers a wave of “arbitrary detentions of human-rights defenders,” in the past few months.

It estimates that at least 15 Saudi activists have been arrested since May 15, though some estimate that the actual number of arrests, including unreported ones, may be higher. Saudi Arabia has said the arrests targeted people who sought to “destabilize the Kingdom” and were done by following the country’s legal guidelines.