Nada Musa is one of the many international students forced to quarantine away from their apartments at the Westin Hotel in Halifax. She came back from her home country Kuwait early January.
On the same flight, Musa said, there was a classmate who was also traveling from Kuwait, but because the classmate was a Canadian student, he was allowed to quarantine at his own place.
Musa said she had to pay $871 for the hotel on top of her rent while watching her Canadian counterpart leaving for home.
Indignant, Musa posted a short video on TikTok expressing her frustration.
“What I’m mad about for the most part is it’s unfair. They (Canadian students) get to go home and we don’t. It does not make any sense,” she said in her recent TikTok video online.
The video has since attracted minor aggressive comments from people on the internet.
One comment reads: “Yes, he’s of Canadian citizenship. You should be thankful they at least give you a hotel. (You) could be on the street or forced back home. Be thankful.”
The comment was deleted afterward but other racist remarks remained.
One TikTok user, Metro5chic, commented:”Kuwait is the most racist country. Don’t talk about Canada. This country is more welcoming of minorities than that racist desert (expletive).”
As of Nov. 3, most universities in the province have made it mandatory for international students to pay to quarantine in a hotel regardless of whether they have their own apartment or not, making Nova Scotia the only Atlantic province that has the rule.
The issue has since received numerous complaints and been the subject of stories by multiple news outlets including The Chronicle Herald, CBC, and Global News. Acadia University has since changed their rules and allowed international students to isolate at their own apartments, according to an earlier CBC report.
But the issue at Dalhousie University remains unresolved and students at the Westin Hotel said they are not being treated fairly.
“Reports from international students who are currently staying at or have completed their 14-day isolation at the Westin Nova Scotian described conditions including lack of adequate food, heating, or internet connection,” Holly Edmonds, communications co-ordinator wrote in a press release.
International students at the Westin are not allowed to order any food from a third-party platform and are only allowed to order from the hotel menu. There is a security guard on each floor to oversee the students and make sure they abide by the quarantine rules.
A Westin Hotel spokesman said the hotel is "proud that the security guards are doing a good job" and having security is "the only way we can guarantee the safety of Nova Scotians and of the students."
Glenn Bowie, the hotel's director of marketing, said security guards and meal plans are both parts of the negotiation between international students and the Westin Hotel.
“The thing, honestly, that bothers a lot of us is, no one can drop off food to us. And we cannot order any food,” Musa said, explaining the university told her that the decision was from the hotel and not the university and the Westin confirmed it.
"Basically, we have suggested that Dal does not allow that. Dal has gone along with it because we can't guarantee the safety. Our job is to keep Nova Scotian safe, to keep Haligonian safe, and to keep the students safe as well as our staff," Bowie said.
But Musa said she witnessed the front desk pick out the only drink in a package dropped off from the outside.
“If I just order a drink from outside, I can’t get it in. But people can drop off like a book for me. I don't understand what's the difference,” Musa said.
The rules laid out by the universities are the product of guidance coming from both federal and provincial governments. International students are under the purview of the federal government, which has asked universities to defer to their provincial health authorities for quarantine regulations around international students.
"Given the supervision requirements, it’s not possible for Dalhousie international students to complete their mandatory 14-day quarantine in private accommodations while ensuring compliance with government requirements," Janet Bryson, associate director of media relations at Dalhousie University, said in an email statement.
Nova Scotia's Department of Immigration has identified immigrants as having an important role in the province’s economic recovery from the pandemic. In a press release in December, Immigration Minister Lena Metlege Diab said, “Retaining international students after graduation is a priority for the province.”
This year 1,018 international graduates have chosen to live in Nova Scotia after their studies have been approved, a significant increase from 35 in 2014.
Noah Kivler is another international student from Maine at Dalhousie University who paid $1,627 to quarantine at the Westin Hotel.
He started a petition in December calling for a refund of the hotel cost to the students.
“Many international students are struggling fiscally, especially during this pandemic when many of us lost many hours of work often without receiving government aid,” Kivier wrote.
The petition has now gained 2,607 signatures and received heated comments below the post.
"For students who need support for paying for quarantine, we have set aside an additional $100,000 in financial aid available to them, as well as other forms of financial aid open to all students who require support," said Dalhousie University in an email statement.
“ I just wish I could be in my apartment; I could order my groceries and cook my food and have my space that I'm paying for. And it's not cheap,” said Musa.
Lu Xu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle Herald