Manama: Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have decided to suspend sending their students to Idaho State University amid reports of racism and discrimination on and off campus in Pocatello, Idaho.
Dr Badr Al Eisa, Kuwait’s higher education minister, said the ministry would no longer allocate scholarships to the university after Kuwaiti students reported abuses and discrimination.
The minister added that 400 students were facing racial discrimination.
“We have contacts at the highest levels to protect our students from racism and abuses,” he told Kuwaiti daily Al Qabas.
The minister said he had contacted the foreign minister, Shaikh Sabah Al Khalid, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US and the cultural attaché regarding the issue.
The necessary measures will be taken to transfer the students to other universities, he said, the daily reported on Wednesday.
Al Eisa said the decision to transfer the students from the university would affect the economy of Idaho and cause losses in millions of dollars, explaining that it was a small state and that it relied heavily on income from student tuitions.
The minister condemned the unprecedented and hostile statements targeting Kuwaiti students and stressed that the ministry would not “spare any effort to protect them and ensure their safety”.
He said the onslaught on the students, the accusations levelled at them, the discrimination they suffered on and off campus and the harassments in the streets, shopping areas and accommodation were totally unacceptable.
Al Eisa said the anti-Kuwaiti drive, including the dissemination of lies and false allegations, was intensified after the university was informed about the suspension of the Kuwaiti scholarships.
The minister attributed the sudden emergence of racism and onslaughts to the racist campaigns by presidential hopeful Donald Trump.
In Washington, Saudi Cultural Attaché Mohammad Al Eisa said the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM) was suspending scholarships to Idaho State University, citing complaints filed by students about incidents of racism.
A report in the Saudi daily Al Watan on Wednesday said an official from the commission held a meeting with Idaho officials and with students to discuss the issue.
The report said the Saudi embassy was likely to contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as some of the incidents amounted to hate crimes.
Abdullah Al Dossari, the head of the Saudi Students’ Club, said Idaho supported Trump in his presidential bid and that the candidate used anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric that inflamed people and pushed them towards extremism and bigotry.
Al Dossari said he had a meeting with the mayor and highlighted the problems he and his fellow students were facing at the university and in the city.
The mayor reportedly pledged to find a solution, but nothing has really changed, Al Dossari reportedly said.
“In fact, the situation has become worse and the problems have become more acute,” he said.
In an article it published last month, the New York Times said, “Idaho State became increasingly dependent on Saudi and Kuwaiti students to replace income lost from steep declines in local enrolment and state funding.”
According to the daily, “The potential payoff of having these students was big — $20,000 per student in annual out-of-state tuition, nearly three times what state residents pay.”
With almost 1,200 students from the Middle East, the local economy was getting around $40 million every year.
Referring to the tension in Pocatello, the daily cited the case of Rev. Jim Jones, pastor of the Blazing Grace Church, who approached the lectern at City Hall, holding a copy of the Quran.
The Islamic text commanded followers to embrace intolerance, hate and violence, he told the zoning panel, explaining why he felt uncomfortable with the plan of Middle Eastern students at Idaho State University to build a mosque within walking distance of the campus.
“The mosque was approved. But the remarks by Mr. Jones and other opponents at the February 2014 hearing were signs of the fissures developing in this railroad town,” the daily said.
On campus, “professors said students, many of them unfamiliar with English, were ill-prepared and frequently resorted to cheating”.
Saudis have been studying at the university since 2006 when the first group of 17 arrived, mostly enrolling in the engineering school.
The arrival of Kuwaiti students boosted the community and the local economy.
Abandoned storefronts downtown reopened and merchants and landlords relished the business, the Times said.