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Far away and fearful

Nadia Nsir, center, weeps over family members, including her mother, two brothers and two sisters, still living in Libya. Nsir is comforted by her daughter, Tasneem, left, and friend Patricia Maarhuis during a WSU Libyan student group relief fundraiser on Tuesday in Pullman. (Dan Pelle)
Nadia Nsir, center, weeps over family members, including her mother, two brothers and two sisters, still living in Libya. Nsir is comforted by her daughter, Tasneem, left, and friend Patricia Maarhuis during a WSU Libyan student group relief fundraiser on Tuesday in Pullman. (Dan Pelle)
By Kevin Graman and Chelsea Bannach The Spokesman-Review

The effects of the conflict in Libya are being felt by a group of students thousands of miles away at Washington State University.

About 34 Libyan students currently attend WSU. Their education is paid for by Libya’s Ministry of Education and Scientific Research, which covers tuition and health insurance and provides a living allowance.

But last month, the U.S. government froze Libya’s assets, including education funding for more than 2,000 Libyan students attending colleges in North America.

The Libyan-North American Scholarship Program funds are administered by the Canadian Bureau for International Education, which notified the students that the current semester would be covered but it only had funding through this May, said Kemale Pinar of the CBIE.

“We never informed students that the program was ending,” Pinar said.

In fact, she said, since that notification, CBIE has obtained a license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to continue to receive and disburse funding from the Libyan education ministry through March 2012.

In addition, Pinar said, “We have received numerous confirmations that the Ministry of Education and Scientific Research is committed to having the program continue and they are making arrangements to send us the funding. That’s what we believe will happen.”

Nevertheless, the CBIE advised students to make contingencies should funding stop as a result of the conflict, leaving many students scrambling to find jobs. For those who do find jobs, an F-1 student visa prohibits them from working off campus or more than 20 hours a week. They can apply for an exemption that will allow them to work more hours if they can prove economic hardship; the application cost is $300.

Foreign students attending college in the United States on an F-1 visa are required to take at least 12 credits as undergraduates or 10 credits as graduate students each semester, but if their scholarships cease, many students won’t be able to afford full-time tuition.

Additionally, said Nadia Nsir, a Libyan student pursuing her doctorate in education at WSU, many of her countrymen feel they cannot go home because of the fear of violence.

“It is not safe (for the students) to go back,” she said. “They may disappear. They may get raped.”

“There’s chaos there.”

Candace Chenoweth, director of the Office of International Students and Scholars at WSU, said her office is trying to support the Libyans. They’ve had meetings at the Pullman mosque to discuss their options and provide counseling to manage the “stress and trauma” of their situation.

“No one knows what’s going to happen because of the strife in Libya,” Chenoweth said.

The students have worries that extend beyond the Palouse. Casualties are on the rise in the embattled country as rebel forces fighting to end Moammar Gadhafi’s 41-year reign continue to clash with heavily armed, pro-Gadhafi troops. “We’re talking about our friends, our family,” said Talal Amara, a 36-year-old pursuing a doctorate in education. “We have to stand together as Libyans.”

The Libyan students hosted a fundraiser Tuesday in an effort to ease the humanitarian crisis sweeping the nation, where access to necessities such as food and medicine have been crippled or wiped out.

During the fundraiser, the group gave a presentation about the country to about 45 people and collected donations for the Libyan Community Association of Oregon, which formed in February when the conflict began.

“It’s far away from politics,” Amara said. “We care about those who are injured, killed, in the middle of the conflict.”

However, 28-year-old Eman Elturki, who also is pursuing a doctorate in education, said in addition to raising relief funds, the purpose of the event was to “to speak out, to tell Americans what’s going on.”

Elturki, who has family living in Benghazi, said, “If I were there, I would have my husband go and fight (for the opposition). After Gadhafi is gone, we’ll be fine.”

So far, Amara’s family is OK, but he and many other students fear retaliation for protesting Gadhafi’s stranglehold on the county.

“It’s really, really scary, just because whatever you do here, they just may take revenge on your family,” Amara said. “That’s my big concern.”

However, the students’ fear of reprisal against them and their families in Libya is trumped by their desire for an end to the bloodshed and the ushering in of democracy.

“Anything we can do, we are doing,” Elturki said. “When you know you might lose your family, you don’t care.”

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