Quebec Universities Open Doors To Students Stranded By Middle East Conflict

Quebec universities open doors to students stranded by Middle East conflict

August 7, 2006 – 15:40
The Canadian Press

MONTREAL (CP) – With the largest population of Lebanese-Canadians on their doorstep, Concordia University in Montreal and the University of Montreal have reopened closed application processes to students stranded by the war in the Middle East.

The two Quebec universities say they are fast-tracking applications from students who had planned to attend institutions in Lebanon this fall.

“It's important that the current generation still have access to education,” said Guy Berthiaume, vice-rector of development and alumni relations at the University of Montreal.

The university has a long-standing exchange program with the Lebanese University and the University St-Joseph in Beirut, both of which have been turned into refugee shelters as Israel bombs the country harbouring Hezbollah.

The Quebec school is now making room for those exchange students in Montreal. It's also reopened applications for other students, Canadian and foreign, who were to attend other institutions in Lebanon.

Since Friday, Berthiaume said they've received more than 100 calls, mostly from local Lebanese-Canadians and many who were recently evacuated from the war-torn region.

The university is waiving tuition for the exchange students and is also raising funds for them.

“They will need money to live, pay rent and buy food,” said Berthiaume.

Concordia received at least 79 applications in just over a week.

“We're putting out an invitation to students who were supposed to be studying in that region and who will be unable to study in that region, to fast-track them to be able to attend Concordia in September,” university spokeswoman Tanya Churchmuch said Monday.

“Pretty much all of the students who have the acceptable academic levels will be taken care of.”

At least 24 have already been accepted.

Some other universities, including McGill in Montreal, are trying to defer admission for students having difficulty getting to Canada for the start of classes next month.

Would-be students will need a temporary resident visa.

With the Canadian consulate in Beirut burdened with evacuations, Citizenship and Immigration Canada offices in Damascus and Amman are now accepting visa applications from Lebanon.

“They'll have six months,” said Churchmuch.

“If the conflict continues and they feel that they don't want to return home and want to continue studying at Concordia, the six months gives them the opportunity to go through.?.?.all the official paperwork to get the status as a foreign student.”

The universities can't guarantee that the course credits earned in Canada will later be transferable to foreign institutions but the American University in Beirut, an English-language institution with nearly 7,000 students, said students wishing to register at other schools can take credit for their courses as long as they have prior approval.

The American University condensed its summer semester but has continued to operate during the bombardment.

In a statement posted on the university website, acting president George Tomey said they will go ahead with courses slated for the fall.