Benin - a textbook case of education in refugee emergencies

News Stories, 26 July 2005

© UNHCR/J.Leduc
Togolese refugee students between classes at Agame camp, Benin.

LOKOSSA, Benin, July 26 (UNHCR) It was 11:30 am, and a studious silence pervaded the college schoolyard in Lokossa, 100 km west of Cotonou. Some 1,850 students, among them 60 Togolese refugees, were sitting their biology exam, one of many exams towards obtaining the BEPC certificate of studies for the first stage of secondary education.

What seemed like a student exchange programme over three days last week was really the result of coordinated efforts to make sure that Togolese children who recently fled into Benin can continue their education even in exile. The prompt action taken by the Beninese government, various aid agencies and refugee teachers is a textbook example of ensuring access to education in refugee emergencies.

Of the 24,427 Togolese who left their country amid post-election violence in late April and sought safety in neighbouring Benin, some 40 percent are of school-going age. For UNHCR and its partners, the top priority was to salvage the academic year. Thanks to the quick intervention of Benin's government, more than 2,100 Togolese refugee children are now continuing their lessons in camps and one quarter of them will participate in the second session of exams organized in Benin in September to the relief of refugee students and their parents.

This programme could not be realized without help from Togolese refugee teachers in the camps. "We began our teaching activities in the second week of May," said the headmaster of the school in Agame camp near Lokossa. "Given the time constraints, we have focused our activities on previous exam topics. There is a chance that, except for a few details, the curricula are almost the same," he added, noting that he has met with authorities at the primary and secondary schools to discuss these issues.

The teaching programme has also benefited from the support of academic counsellors from Benin's Minister of National Education. Lessons are held in makeshift classrooms in Agame camp, while the counsellors take care of the younger children registered in nursery school.

Life in exile has reaped unexpected gains for some street children who never attended school in Togo now have the chance to study in Benin.

Beyond educational concerns, going to school also helps young refugees pass their time productively in camps while setting a routine to resume some degree of normalcy to their lives. Ideally, the games and sports offered at school should also help them deal with the trauma linked to their flight from Togo. In this context, UNHCR and UNICEF are planning to introduce peace education in Agame and Come camps. Socio-educational activities have been implemented and refugee involvement is encouraged in all camp activities such as teaching, food distribution and medical assistance.

But difficulties remain. "Pupils do not have the same level. They come from different schools and different areas," said a UNICEF manager. "The lack of teachers, particularly for some subjects like German, makes the task even more difficult."

Other problems include a lack of classrooms, teaching material and teachers' qualifications. Holiday courses and retraining teachers are possible ways of ameliorating these problems.

Even then, not every refugee can enjoy his or her fundamental right to education, like Togolese university students who could not join the Beninese education system as they arrived too late to enrol.

© UNHCR/J.Leduc
Togolese children with their school kits in Benin.

At 12:30 pm, the bell rang in the Lokossa college schoolyard, putting an end to the biology exam. The yard was abuzz with discussions as the students waited for the maths exam in the afternoon. Alice, a young Togolese refugee, found the exam accessible. Nearby, another refugee disagreed: "It is complicated because we did not study everything at school," before concluding confidently, "But we have it sorted out."

Meanwhile in Ghana where there are another 15,500 Togolese refugees living with host families, UNHCR is providing support to more than 400 Togolese refugee children who have begun informal schooling in the towns of Obuasi, Kute, Pampayuie, and Peny in the Volta Region, taught by refugee teachers. Initially a local initiative, the informal schools will be receiving notebooks, pens, pencils and blackboards from the refugee agency.

By Julie Leduc




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UNHCR joins forces with the Ministry of Education and NGO partners to improve education for Sudanese refugees in Chad.

The ongoing violence in Sudan's western Darfur region has uprooted two million Sudanese inside the country and driven some 230,000 more over the border into 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

Although enrolment in the camp schools in Chad is high, attendance is inconsistent. A shortage of qualified teachers and lack of school supplies and furniture make it difficult to keep schools running. In addition, many children are overwhelmed by household chores, while others leave school to work for local Chadian families. Girls' attendance is less regular, especially after marriage, which usually occurs by the age of 12 or 13. For boys and young men, attending school decreases the possibility of recruitment by various armed groups operating in the area.

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Education for Displaced Colombians

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Two million people are listed on Colombia's National Register for Displaced People. About half of them are under the age of 18, and, according to the Ministry of Education, only half of these are enrolled in school.

Even before displacement, Colombian children attending school in high-risk areas face danger from land mines, attacks by armed groups and forced recruitment outside of schools. Once displaced, children often lose an entire academic year. In addition, the trauma of losing one's home and witnessing extreme violence often remain unaddressed, affecting the child's potential to learn. Increased poverty brought on by displacement usually means that children must work to help support the family, making school impossible.

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Benin: Influx from Togo

More than 30,000 people fled Togo to seek security in neighbouring countries when violence erupted with the announcement of election results on April 26, 2005. The outflow slowed in the ensuing weeks, but Benin and Ghana continue to register daily arrivals.

More than half of the refugees arrived in Benin, many through the main crossing point at Hilakondji. The majority stayed with friends and host families, while several thousand were moved from a church compound near Hilakondji to Come and Lokossa camps. More land is being cleared at Lokossa to accommodate more of the new arrivals. UNHCR and its partners are providing food and relief items and building sanitation facilities.

In Ghana, most of the Togolese are living with relatives and friends, but these host families are now running low on resources. Aid agencies are working to meet the increasing need to distribute food and relief items like mats, jerry cans, mosquito nets and soap.

Benin: Influx from Togo

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