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Canada-Iran tensions boil over

McGill students hit by embassy closure

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Two hundred and sixty-two Iranian students at McGill are facing difficulties following the federal government’s decision to close its embassy in Iran. The closure has also made it difficult – and for some, impossible – to return to study at McGill.

Last Friday, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird declared the immediate closing of the Canadian embassy in Iran and all Iranian diplomats in Canada as personae non gratae. According to Baird, Iranian diplomats were informed that they had five days to leave.

“Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to world peace and security in the world today,” he said.

Of the 262 Iranian students currently enrolled at McGill, 232 are graduate students, 26 are undergraduates, two are post-doctorates, and two are in continuing studies. There are approximately 4,000 Iranian students in Canada as a whole, many of whom currently face challenges posed by the closing of Canadian consular service in Iran.

The services that will no longer be directly available in Iran include the ability to apply for a study permit and to receive letters exempting or postponing mandatory military service for male Iranian citizens aged 18-34.

Of the 54 newly admitted students to McGill, 29 do not have their documents in order due to the embassy’s closure. This includes students who sent in their official documents and passports and can no longer retrieve them.

The current VP External of the McGill Iranian Students Association (MISA) and an Iranian student at McGill, told The Daily, “If I lose my passport, there is no organization I can prove my identity to. I cannot stay here. I cannot even go to Iran.”

According to MISA President Maiid Sheikholeslami, newly admitted students who are still in Iran must now apply for study permits through the Canadian embassy in Ankara, Turkey.
Sheikholeslami also said that applicants must submit their CV, a list of professors, research interests, and past publications. This was not the case in previous years.
With the increased paperwork and the subsequent backlog, many students have missed the deadline to defer their classes.

Pauline L’Ecuyer, Director of International Student Services at McGill, said that the University is going to be flexible in granting deferral permission to students who did not make the class deferral deadline of August 31.

“This does not solve the problem of deferral of funds,” she said. “Scholarships and grants that have been promised to Iranian students this semester are much more difficult to defer as they come from a variety of sources.”

The sanction imposed on Iranian banks on July 26, 2010 by the Canadian government has also made money transfers more complicated for Iranian students at McGill, who must now transfer money through more expensive alternatives like foreign exchange offices.

“The sanctions put against Iran doesn’t [so much] put the government under pressure as it puts the people under pressure,” said Salimi.

Last Tuesday, L’Ecuyer organized a meeting to provide Iranian students at McGill with information and assistance.

“The purpose of the meeting was to know what students expectations are from [McGill], what it is we can do to make their access to McGill now – [as well as] those who are still in Iran – easier,” said L’Ecuyer.

Of the 262 Iranian students invited, 32 were present at the meeting.

L’Ecuyer, in partnership with her counterparts at the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta, plans to lobby the government of Canada on behalf of students.
Emails were sent out to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Citizenship and Immigration Canada on September 10. So far, there has been no response.