Afghan students mark 15th year of German scholarship

News Stories, 18 September 2006

Afghan students at a workshop in Peshawar for DAFI scholarship recipients.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, September 18 (UNHCR) Albert Einstein was a refugee from Nazi Germany, but half-a-century after the great scientist's death his homeland is helping other refugees around the world to realise their dreams for tertiary education including scores of Afghans.

This year marks the 15th year of the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI) in Pakistan one of the largest and longest-running German-funded scholarships in the world. The programme aims to contribute to the self-reliance of refugees by providing them with professional qualifications for future employment.

"DAFI is a real investment in the human resources development of all the countries whose young people are displaced and are unable to continue tertiary-level education," said Nasir Sahibzada, UNHCR's programme assistant for education in Peshawar, capital of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

More than 900 Afghan refugees in Pakistan have benefited from the programme since it started in 1992. A total of 72 students are now studying in 26 academic institutions in NWFP, Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh provinces.

Earlier this month, some of these students took part in a one-day workshop in Peshawar for DAFI scholarship recipients. They discussed education-related problems and recommendations.

"It is only because of UNHCR and DAFI that I am able to fulfil my dreams," said Afghan refugee Saleema Azimi. "I am studying biotechnology, a relatively new field. I am sure I can accomplish a lot."

Fellow student Tayaba Naqibullah displayed equal confidence and ambition: "I am doing my Masters in Public Administration. Once I complete my education, I will go back to Afghanistan and work for the rehabilitation of my country, especially for Afghan women. I want to tell the entire world that although the major part of our lives was spent under domination, now the situation is different and we all have the desire and ability to change our country."

UNHCR's education officer, Claas Morlang, was at the workshop to answer queries. "It was very impressive to see the young generation of Afghanistan, especially women, manage and succeed at the university level," he noted. "Their enthusiasm is remarkable. They are determined and have the strength to learn and contribute to the community."

Even with the will and financial support to succeed academically, Afghans still face obstacles in their quest for higher education, including the complicated admission procedures to Pakistani institutions.

Currently, Afghan students who wish to enter Pakistani institutions must take an exam with the education cell of the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees. Those who pass are recommended to the relevant department, where they will pay the same fees as local students. Afghan students who approach the institutions directly are considered foreigners and have to pay three times the amount.

Another challenge is the gap between different levels of education available. Consistent with its worldwide policy, UNHCR provides basic education to some 100,000 Afghan children in more than 270 camp-based primary schools in NWFP, Balochistan and Punjab. The Pakistan authorities had provided middle and secondary school education until funding problems forced them to close the schools in March this year. Efforts to find alternative sources of funding have so far been unsuccessful.

According to a 2005 government census of Afghans living in Pakistan, an estimated 55 percent of the 3.04 million Afghans counted were under the age of 18. More education initiatives like DAFI are needed to enable young refugees to contribute to society in exile and upon repatriation.

By Rabia Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan




UNHCR country pages


Education is vital in restoring hope and dignity to young people driven from their homes.

DAFI Scholarships

The German-funded Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative provides scholarships for refugees to study in higher education institutes in many countries.

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Chad: Education in Exile

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.

UNHCR and its partners continue to provide training and salaries for teachers in all 12 refugee camps, ensuring a quality education for refugee children. NGO partners maintain schools and supply uniforms to needy students. And UNICEF is providing books, note pads and stationary. In August 2007 UNHCR, UNICEF and Chad's Ministry of Education joined forces to access and improve the state of education for Sudanese uprooted by conflict in Darfur.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Chad: Education in Exile

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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.

UNHCR supports the government's response to the educational crisis of displaced children, which includes local interventions in high-risk areas, rebuilding damaged schools, providing school supplies and supporting local teachers' organizations. UNHCR consults with the Ministry of Education to ensure the needs of displaced children are known and planned for. It also focuses on the educational needs of ethnic minorities such as the Afro-Colombians and indigenous people.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

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The cycle of life has started again in Afghanistan as returnees put their shoulders to the wheel to rebuild their war-torn country.

Return is only the first step on Afghanistan's long road to recovery. UNHCR is helping returnees settle back home with repatriation packages, shelter kits, mine-awareness training and vaccination against diseases. Slowly but surely, Afghans across the land are reuniting with loved ones, reconstructing homes, going back to school and resuming work. A new phase in their lives has begun.

Watch the process of return, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction unfold in Afghanistan through this gallery.

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

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