About 2,500 Libyan students and their families living in North America have become victims of the conflict raging in their homeland.
The students’ stipends, paid with Libyan money, have been blocked under a U.N. Security Council resolution that froze Libyan assets to pressure Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.
The Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), which manages an international scholarship program with the Libyan Ministry of Education and Scientific Research, has told the students that it does not have enough money to cover their tuition beyond the end of this month.
There are about 2,000 Libyan students in the U.S. and 500 in Canada. Many of them are accompanied by their families, putting the number of people affected by the fund freeze at about 4,000.
If the students are unable to pay their tuition, they risk losing their visas and could face deportation.
Ali Alghonas, 35, who is studying for a master’s degree in political science at the University of Cincinnati, came to the U.S. from Tripoli in 2008. “I was on full scholarship. Now, I don’t have anything,” he said.
Nizar Senussi, 28, a physician from Tripoli who is studying for the medical licensing examination in Chicago, had been in the U.S. barely three months when the uprising in Libya erupted on Feb. 17.
“The Libyan government is not paying us anymore, and the opposition that we support does not have any money,” Dr. Senussi said.
Libya’s Education Ministry has said it wants to continue to pay for the scholarships, which would cost about $240 million for the 2011-12 academic year. But the Treasury Department has frozen about $34 billion in Libyan assets.
A Treasury official, who spoke with The Washington Times on background, said the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has issued a license to the CBIE “authorizing fresh, unblocked funds from the government of Libya to fund the Libyan students studying in North America.”
By issuing this license, the U.S. has done everything it can under the current sanctions program to authorize the Libyan government to continue to fund its students, the official said.
However, it appears that the Libyan government cannot or will not fund its students.
“The students are unintended victims of a conflict that is much bigger than them,” said Jennifer Humphries, vice president of the CBIE, which is based in Ottawa. “The sad thing is, we know there is money available. We are waiting for the mechanisms to be in place to release it.”
Ms. Humphries said it is unlikely that the CBIE will know the status of the frozen funds until this week.
The CBIE was able to pay for the students’ health insurance through June after some universities waived their tuition fees, but there was not enough money to cover dental insurance.
Addressing a think-tank audience in Washington, Ali Aujali, who quit his post as Libya’s ambassador in Washington after the uprising began, underscored the students’ plight.
“Gadhafi’s regime is destroying all the infrastructure of Libya … but we don’t want him to also destroy the future of Libya. These students are the future of our country,” he said.
The students are in a bind. Their F-1 visas allow them to work only on campus and only if they are enrolled in a course. But they cannot enroll because they don’t have any money.
The CBIE is advising students who are eligible for work permits to apply for them and try to find jobs.
Abdalla Hamad, 21, who is studying biology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, has tried to cut down his expenses by sharing a cellphone with his friends and taking public transportation instead of his car.
“If we don’t get the money, we could become homeless,” he said. “We don’t even have the money for plane tickets to go back to Libya.”