Libyan Students In Ohio Find Frozen Funds And Few Options Left

Jun 23, 2017

A few blocks from the Kent State University campus, Ibrahim Albadri shares a small apartment with a roommate and his orange tabby named Zena.

The living room is sparsely furnished: there’s a couch, a dining room table and a few foldout chairs. In the corner, the red and green Libya flag hangs on the wall.

Albedri’s just come from his job at the school’s IT department—according to his student visa, he’s only permitted to work for the school, and for no more than 20 hours a week. He folds open his laptop to check on his online fundraising campaign.

He says school administrators suggested the idea to him when it became evident his money for tuition would not arrive on time.  

“I knew Libya was bad,” Albadri says. “I just didn’t know it was that bad.”

Paying for college is a challenge for most any student. In his case, Albedri has the money, he just can’t access it.

As Albedri's home country devolves into increasing instability, it has become all but impossible for citizens living abroad to get to their money held in Libyan banks.

In the first few days, his GoFundMe campaign did receive several donations. A month later, though, he's still tens of thousands of dollars away from his goal of $50,000.

It may seem farfetched, but this is Albedri’s last option, and he’s determined to continue school in the fall. He still hasn’t considered what he’ll do with his cat if he’s forced to leave in August.

Albedri came to the U.S. in 2014 to study computer engineering. At the time the conflict in Libya had subsided, but as Albedri finished his sophomore year, fighting resumed. The county started to limit the amount of currency leaving its borders.  

If Albedri is forced to leave the U.S. in August, he says he's not sure what he'll do with his cat Zena.
Credit Esther Honig

Administrators at Kent State say they’ve seen this issue before. Right now, both their Iraqi and Libyan students face a similar struggle. They’ve managed to put some in touch with emergency loans or allowed them to enroll on good faith, hoping the money will eventually arrive.

Of course, there’s not much else the school can do.

“Doesn't look like the money's going to come from Libya, because it's just getting worse and worse,” Albedri says.

At this point, Albadri owes the university tuition for two semesters. In March, his inability to pay meant he was forced to drop his classes. If by August he is still unable to produce the necessary funds, he won't be allowed to enroll and will subsequently lose his student visa.

Currently, Libya is not an ideal destination for a young person trying to get an education. Albedri says in the city where he lives, people don’t leave their homes at night. There have been kidnappings and the local law enforcement is unresponsive.

Albedri says his cousin was kidnapped; a fisherman found his body chopped into small pieces.

“Any of my friends that I call, they tell me don’t come back," Albedri says.

Libya no longer hosts an American embassy in the country, and the Trump administration has complicated travel from Muslim majority countries including Libya.

Johnathan Winer, a former special envoy for Libya, says if Albadri loses his student visa, there’s a good chance he won’t be able to get another one.

“If I was a Libyan student who had the right to be here, I would try and make it work too,” Winer says.

It’s been several years since the country had an effective government, Winer says. In 2011, Arab Spring protests lead to the ousting of former leader Maummer Gaddafi and two subsequent civil wars. The intense conflicts have subsided, but basic services like healthcare, education and electricity are crumbing.

Arab Spring demonstrations in Libya, 2011.
Credit Wikipedia

Winer says the collapse of the oil industry has led to an economic crisis. The country has spent more money than it is able to generate, and the government is afraid of running out of hard currency.

“If they run out of dollars...the country goes into immediate humanitarian catastrophe,” Winer says.  

About 1,500 students from Libya go to school in the U.S., and their education is critical to the county’s future. Winer says that if more young people are able to earn their degrees - whether in the States, the European Union or Canada - they can return to their country and help rebuild it.

“I would like to see as many Libyan students as possible to complete educations here,” Winer says.

It may be too late for Albadri, who’s only a year away from graduating. Back home, he won’t have access to the same level of education. Poor internet, unreliable electricity and lack of computers means students there often learn to code with pen and paper.

"You know when you [have] a dream...and you’re halfway through and you wake up from the dream?" Albedri says. "That’s basically what will happen."