Libyan students in Canada cut off from scholarship funding

More than 1,100 Libyans at schools across Canada benefit from a scholarship program from the government, but their funds have not yet arrived

HALIFAX – When Albahlool Omar Idhbeaa came from Libya to Nova Scotia to complete his doctorate, he came with the understanding that his home country would cover his tuition and the cost of supporting his family.

But he says when he went to register for his upcoming summer semester, he ran into a problem.

“I went to the lady who is working at the student accounts and she told me I owe them money and they’re holding my account,” said Idhbeaa, a second-year doctoral student in engineering at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Now he says he can’t sign up for summer classes or see his grades from last semester.

Idhbeaa is one of many Libyan students who have come to Canada through the Libyan-North American Scholarship Program, intended to cover tuition, living expenses and health insurance for graduate students.

More than 1,100 Libyans at schools across Canada benefit from the program, according to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, the organization responsible for administering funding from the Libyan government.

Earlier this month, the bureau issued a statement saying it was placing a hold on financial support letters for Libyan students because their government had not transferred funds for the 2014-15 academic year.

Idhbeaa says it isn’t only tuition that is held up. He also does not know when he will receive his next living allowance, which he uses to support his wife and two daughters, and their health insurance expires at the end of April.

But his biggest concern is not being able to complete his degree.

“We are worrying about the next semester, what’s going to happen,” he said.

“Study for Libyan students is very important. We came here for this purpose.”

Abourawi Alwaar also came from Libya to do graduate studies in engineering.

He was accepted into a master’s program in September but doubts he’ll be able to attend because his funding ended before he could finish required courses in English as a second language. Alwaar says his family has been unable to transfer money to him from Libya as a result of problems with the banking system.

His roommate Abdurrahman Elajmi, also a student from Libya, says he feels stranded in Canada.

He thought the educational bureau would cover everything for him, “because I am in a new country, different culture, different system,” he said.

Jennifer Humphries, the bureau’s vice-president for membership, public policy and communications, says the organization is doing its best to get the money out of Libya but unrest there is making that difficult.

Civil war broke out in Libya in 2011 and violence in the country escalated again in 2014, prompting the Canadian government to close its embassy in Tripoli until stability is restored.

“There are so many factors militating against their ease of transferring that money to us,” Humphries said.

“The government institutions are really not functioning well. In fact there are two governments competing for position.”

In March, the bureau met with Libya’s central bank governor in Turkey, Humphries said, and that helped some money to be released for overdue living allowances. But she said that hasn’t helped with tuition payments, which are in arrears for many students.

“Hopefully the central bank in Tripoli will be able to release more funds to us promptly because it’s difficult. It’s their students. The students have come to North America on the promise of a scholarship from their home government,” she said.

For now, Humphries says her organization is encouraging Canadian institutions to do what they can to support the Libyan students and allow them to continue the studies they came for.