People pray at an open air makeshift mosque in front of a giant Saudi Flag in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, June 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Amr Nabil

Saudi man helps medical students in Canada seek asylum amid diplomatic tensions

A Nova Scotia health official says the pending departure of 59 Saudi Arabian medical residents will result in surgical delays over the coming months.

A Saudi Arabian man who successfully claimed asylum in Canada is now helping students across the country do the same amid tensions between the two countries that erupted last month.

Omar Abdulaziz says he is assisting 20 Saudi medical students from Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia seek asylum so they can continue their studies and live in Canada.

Last month Saudi Arabia suspended diplomatic relations with Canada in response to a government tweet that criticized the Saudis for the arrest of female social activists.

Saudi students were initially told that they had to leave Canada by Aug. 31 because of the ongoing diplomatic spat.

But HealthCareCan, which represents Canadian hospitals, said hundreds of Saudi Arabian resident physicians will be able to stay in the country to continue their training for now.

Abdulaziz says the students he is working with are not among those allowed to stay in Canada longer.

“Some of them are really scared,” said Abdulaziz. “This is a shock for them.”

Abdulaziz, who was officially granted asylum in 2014, said since diplomatic tensions rose, he’s been helping students from other universities with the asylum claim process.

He said the students don’t want to return to the kingdom because they are worried that they’ll be questioned by Saudi authorities on why they didn’t come back by the Aug 31. deadline.

Abdulaziz said some of the students also fear going back to the kingdom because they are uncertain if they’ll ever be allowed to return to Canada. He said other students are worried that they could be detained because of their associations with people who have recently been jailed in Saudi Arabia.

“I’ve been through the same situation before,” said the 27-year old. “I understand how it feels to fear going back to your country, to feel lost.”

Related: Saudi Arabia expelling Canadian ambassador, freezing new trade with country

Related: PM says cabinet retreat focused on issues close to home for Canadians

Abdulaziz said he claimed asylum in Canada in 2013 because of his political activism and criticisms of the Saudi government that he would regularly post on social media. He said he began posting about human rights issues publicly when he started his studies in Quebec in 2009 at McGill University.

He said his family started receiving threats because of his activism. He said he then claimed asylum because he feared that if he returned to Saudi Arabia he would be jailed.

“I felt that if I returned I was going to be harmed, or that I would at least lose my freedom,” he said.

Abdulaziz said he’s now helping students get in touch with lawyers and fill out paperwork so they can stay in Canada. Abdulaziz said some of the students are his friends and others reached out to him when they heard about his asylum claim being granted.

“I don’t want them to experience the same (feelings) as me and I hope that they pass this,” said Abdulaziz, who is how studying political science and sociology at Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Que.

Abdulaziz said the 20 students have been studying in Canada for three to four years.

Alanna Rizza, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Greater Victoria’s first BC Cannabis Store could open at Saanich shopping centre

Store application for Uptown Shopping Centre headed for public hearing

Royal B.C. Museum reopens in phases, some galleries remain closed to start summer

Victoria museum and archives open first galleries June 19

Study looks at feasibility of Vancouver Island abattoir

South Island Prosperity Partnership funds study looking at local meat processing

Homeless shelter at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre creates 40 jobs

The arena can house 45 people in pop-up pods

B.C. records no new COVID-19 deaths for the first time in weeks

Good news comes despite 11 new test-positive cases in B.C. in the past 24 hours

Tahsis opens its gates to visitors to save local economy

Seasonal local businesses that rely on tourism hope to survive despite drop in tourist numbers

BC Corrections to expand list of eligible offenders for early release during pandemic

Non-violent offenders are being considered for early release through risk assessment process

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Fraser Valley driver featured on ‘Highway Thru Hell’ TV show dies

Monkhouse died Sunday night of a heartattack, Jamie Davis towing confirmed

Island city cancels plan for homeless camp; exploring alternative option

The plan heard strong objection from neighbouring residents and businesses

B.C. visitor centres get help with COVID-19 prevention measures

Destination B.C. gearing up for local, in-province tourism

36 soldiers test positive for COVID-19 after working in Ontario, Quebec care homes

Nearly 1,700 military members are working in long-term care homes overwhelmed by COVID-19

Most Read