08/07/2018 17:54 EDT | Updated 08/08/2018 10:58 EDT

Students Scramble For Info After Saudi Arabia Pulls Canadian Scholarships

The move could affect more than 15,000 students.

Universities across Canada are scrambling to get information after Saudi Arabia suspended scholarships to Canada and planned to relocate its students already in the country.

State-run television has reported that Riyadh will stop training, scholarship and fellowship programs in Canada — a move that will apparently affect the scholarships of more than 15,000 students attending university in Canada.

Montreal's McGill University says it is actively working with its partners to gather information and assess the impact of the move on institutions and individual students alike.

It says there were 327 students from Saudi Arabia at McGill during the 2017-2018 academic year.

Steven Kriemadis/Getty Images
McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. Some 327 students from Saudi Arabia were enrolled at the university during the previous academic year.

The University of British Columbia says its president, Santa J. Ono, is working to clarify the situation and determine how many current and incoming UBC students might be affected.

York University, meanwhile, says 115 Saudi students are currently enrolled at the Toronto university and that it is also awaiting further information.

Also on Tuesday, the gulf between Ottawa and Saudi Arabia widened to encompass travel as the Middle Eastern country's state airline announced it was suspending operations in Canada.

Passengers disembark a Saudi Arabian plane at Baghdad International Airport on Oct. 19, 2017.

A tweet from Saudia announced its routes operating between the two countries would cease to function in a matter of days, marking the latest escalation in the spat that erupted over the weekend.

"All Saudia flights from/to Toronto, Canada will be suspended starting from 13 Aug 2018," the airline wrote in a statement posted on Twitter.

The airline currently operates at least two routes flying out of Toronto's Pearson International Airport — one to the Saudi capital city of Riyadh, the other to the city of Jeddah.

Transport Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the development.

The airline's announcement comes amid newly surfaced tensions between Canada and Saudi Arabia triggered by Ottawa's criticism of detentions in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia stunned officials on Sunday by announcing it was suspending future trade with Canada and severing diplomatic ties. It recalled its envoy from Ottawa and gave Canadian Ambassador Dennis Horak 24 hours to leave the country.

Any other attempt to interfere with our internal affairs from Canada, means that we are allowed to interfere in Canada's internal affairs Statement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry following a tweet issued by Global Affairs Canada

The dispute ostensibly arose because of a tweet issued by Global Affairs Canada decrying the arrest and detention of two female bloggers and activists.

"Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi,'' the tweet said. "We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists.''

The Saudi Foreign Ministry took exception to the use of the term "immediately release," calling it "unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable in relations between states.''

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"Any other attempt to interfere with our internal affairs from Canada, means that we are allowed to interfere in Canada's internal affairs,'' the Saudi government said.

Amnesty International has said Badawi, the sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, was recently detained along with Nassima al-Sada, another prominent female activist.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland stood by Canada's position on Monday, saying Canadians expect their government's foreign policy to be guided by their values.

"We are always going to speak up for human rights, we are always going to speak up for women's rights and that is not going to change,'' Freeland said in Vancouver.

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