Just before boarding their flights to France, Claudine Niyonkuru and Dernel Mpundu were beaming with excitement and eagerness.
Starting this September, the two Burundian refugees living in the Nyarugusu and Nduta camps in northern Tanzania have joined universities in France to pursue their master’s education.
They are the two finalists in Tanzania out of the 21 refugees in Africa who have been selected for the 2022 Universities for Refugees (UNIV’R) scholarship program provided by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) – a network of associations of tertiary education institutions in Francophone countries.
“I feel my dreams are coming to fruition because of this opportunity”, exclaimed 29-year-old Niyonkuru who is one of the four women refugees selected.
Born in Burundi, Claudine fled to Tanzania when she was still very young. She went to school in the refugee camps and found creative ways to learn new skills.
“After finishing high school, I started working,” said Niyonkuru. “My first job was teaching English to secondary school students at a school in Nyarugusu camp,” she added.
She went on to take other jobs where she learned different skills and languages including French. In 2019, thanks to a scholarship funded by Germany’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs known as DAFI, she joined Tanzania’s University of Iringa where she studied counselling and psychology. She became the first person in her family to obtain a university degree.
Dernel Mpundo fled to Tanzania in 2015, a year after finishing his undergraduate studies in Bujumbura. He is joining France’s University of Paris 13 Sorbonne Paris Nord to pursue his master’s degree in Social Intervention on Territories.
“I have no words to express how this scholarship has restored hope in my life,” said Mpundu. “I hope that this master’s programme will help me develop my skills and work towards building a peaceful society,” he said.
Only six percent of refugees worldwide like Claudine and Dernel have access to higher education.
In 2021, UNHCR and AUF agreed to work together on the UNIV’R scholarship program which will enable French-speaking refugees living in a first country of asylum to study a two-year master’s degree within a higher education institution in France. By September 2023, 50 refugees are planned to benefit from the program.
“UNIV’R is a beacon of light that brings more hope to thousands of young refugees in Tanzania through access to tertiary education,” said Yanik Yankeu, UNHCR’s Education Officer in Tanzania. “We welcome any initiative that will provide more scholarship opportunities and reduce barriers for young refugees like Claudine and Dernel to access tertiary education and set them on the path of achieving their dreams. They also become good role models for other refugees within their communities,” adds Yankeu.
In Tanzania, UNHCR is working to ensure more than 95,000 refugee children of school-going age in the Nyarugusu and Nduta camps are included in the national education system.
Between 2021 and May 2022, over 6,000 Burundian and Congolese refugee students sat for national examinations, administered by UNHCR and supported by the National Examination Council of Tanzania and Ministry of Education of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Following a High-Level Bilateral Meeting between UNHCR and Tanzania held in March 2022, the Government of Tanzania expressed willingness to work with stakeholders towards further strengthening the quality of education delivered to refugees.
“Despite such significant achievement to include refugees in Tanzania’s education system, huge challenges still remain in ensuring that all refugees access quality education and advance to secondary and tertiary levels,” said Yankeu.
UNHCR is calling for more initiatives like this scholarship programme so that many more refugee students can have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Claudine and Dernel, on a new path for a brighter future.
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