By Adrian Morrow
Riham Al-Nahhal might have the craziest frosh week story of the year.
Instead of paying fees and getting acquainted with campus, the 23-year-old international student was stuck in the war-torn Gaza Strip.
Along with hundreds of other Palestinian students, she was held up by the Israeli army at the border.
Since July 2007, when radical Islamic group Hamas took control of Gaza, the Israeli government has shut down the border to the region.
“Israel has declared a policy of collective punishment against the citizens of the Gaza Strip. Part of this punishment is to restrict their movement,” said Itamar Shachar, an activist with Gisha, an Israeli group that’s advocating for the students.
At least 200 students, including Al-Nahhal, were prevented from leaving this year.
Last week, Al-Nahhal was let through the Egyptian border, according to her family.
However, it’s not clear if she’s in Toronto or not. Ryerson registrar Keith Alnwick said she hasn’t shown up yet, but he’ll be happy to help her when she does.
“I wouldn’t rule anything out,” he said.
“We’d be happy to meet with her at her convenience.”
Generally, the school tries to ensure a student doesn’t miss any more than two weeks of classes. However, Ryerson can make exceptions.
Cathy Faye, who handles admissions for the graduate school, where Al-Nahhal will be taking a Master’s of molecular science, confirmed the school will work with her and her program to figure out how to accommodate her.
“We would handle that on a case-by-case basis,” said Cathy Faye, who handles admissions for the graduate school.
“It’s very rare.”
The last time a student missed the start of classes, the school was successfully able to accommodate them.
Supporters of the students stuck in Gaza are urging Canadian universities to push the Canadian government to lobby the Israelis to let international students leave Palestine to study.
“We suggest that the university and lecturers raise the issue with their students and the Israeli authorities,” Shachar said. “This is part of the university taking care of its students.”
The Israeli government, however, insists that its not trying to stop students from studying.
“We support fully students going from Gaza to academic programs in the West,” said Mark Regev, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “Israel wants to see young Palestinians exposed to a liberal democracy.”
The only case where the government would stop a student from leaving, he said, was if they were planning to attend a school where they would learn seditious practices, such as bomb-making.
Last year, more than 1,000 Palestinian students tried to leave to study abroad. Of those, roughly half were denied, Shachar said.
Khaled Al-Mudallal, who works with British advocacy group Let Palestinians Study, estimates that number is approximately 300 this year.
According to Amnesty International, a second Palestinian student, Thaer Al-Madhoun, is also awaiting an exit visa to study in Canada.
He’s enrolled at Niagara College for a Bachelors of Development and Commerce.