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German scholarship gives Somali refugee "the best you can get" - education

News Stories, 7 August 2008

Refugee secondary school students in developing countries, like these in Guinea, have the chance of a university education under a DAFI scholarship if they achieve excellent marks.

CAIRO, Egypt Aug. 7 (UNHCR) Proudly looking at this graduation pictures, Mohamed recalls with joy the night this summer when he received his bachelor's degree. It would have been perfect if only his family had been around him to celebrate. But still, he had other reasons to cheer.

Mohamed, a 25-year-old Somali refugee is one of five refugees in Egypt to receive a scholarship over the last four years through UNHCR's annual DAFI scholarship programme, more formally known as the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative. The scholarship, funded by the German government, gave Mohamed the opportunity to study at a private university in Egypt and obtain a degree in economics and management.

"It is difficult to be alone and away from family and home especially when you are celebrating milestones," said Mohamed. "My colleagues and friends brought their families and some came from so far away but I was the only student who came alone without family. I was delighted though to see one of UNHCR's staff in Egypt standing next to me celebrating my success. He was my family that night."

Mohamed, whose last name is being withheld for protection reasons, fled war raging Somalia in 2002 when he was 19, after his mother paid smugglers to get him a visa and a passport to leave the country. He was forced to flee after his father, two brothers and a sister were killed and he himself was kidnapped. The remaining family could not afford to leave with Mohamed, but his mother pledged she would also find safety somewhere closer to Somalia and one day they would be reunited.

He arrived in Egypt in September, 2002, alone and when people heard his story, they advised him to visit UNHCR where he learned about the DAFI scholarship programme. "I am trying hard because I want to change my life, help myself and my family, and the scholarship provided me with the best that you can get: education," said Mohamed.

During the years Mohamed spent studying at the 6th of October University in Cairo, he had to get used to different sounds and a different lifestyle.

"In Somalia, your ears are used to screaming, crying and your eyes have to get used to seeing tears on everyone's face," said Mohamed. "If it is not your family, then it is your neighbours and you cannot do anything to help most of the time. But here in Cairo, there are different vibes and sounds.... It is the vibes of a safe place."

Throughout his four years at university, Mohamed studied management and economics but he also had hands-on training in research and in designing public awareness campaigns that will one day benefit his people when peace prevails and he returns to his homeland.

"From combating tobacco to malnutrition among children to designing public health messages on HIV and tuberculosis, I have had education relevant to the needs of my country and I am determined to put it to use," said Mohamed. "I am grateful to UNHCR and the DAFI sponsors for giving me the chance to continue my education. They have given me and Somalia an opportunity for a better future."

Since fleeing Somalia six years ago, Mohamed has not had any communication with his mother, remaining two sisters and brother, but heard recently from a friend that someone saw his family somewhere along the Ethiopian-Somali border. "This is not the first time that we are apart. I was kidnapped in 1998 when I was still a child and when I was released from my kidnappers, I searched for (my family) in the refugee camp where we were living and could not find them for six months," he recalled

He is determined to find them, but in the meantime Mohamed is applying for jobs in Egypt in the hope that he can gain experience and support himself. His long-term plans include applying to universities in the United States, Canada and the UK for post-graduate studies.

Mohamed is one of the lucky few. Many more refugees like him will need help to continue their education in Egypt. Some 31 percent of people of concern to UNHCR are younger than 18, and access to education in overcrowded public schools is quite limited. To support their access to primary and secondary education, UNHCR offers education grants for children who would otherwise be unable to afford to go to school. Last year, more than 6,911 school children benefited from these education grants.

The DAFI scholarship programme is a trust fund provided annually by the German government to UNHCR. It aims to help needy and deserving refugee students who attain excellent results in secondary school to continue their academic studies in developing countries.

UNHCR implements and monitors this programme and has awarded more than 70 DAFI scholarships in Egypt over the last ten years. In 2008, the number of grants available for refugee students in higher education has increased from five to ten scholarships.

By Abeer Etefa in Cairo, Egypt




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.

Seeds of Hope

20 Years of DAFI: A UNHCR exhibition highlights the impact of higher education for refugee communities.

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

Education for Displaced Colombians

UNHCR works with the government of Colombia to address the needs of children displaced by violence.

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.

Education for Displaced Colombians

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Ethiopia: Education, A Refugee's Call to ServePlay video

Ethiopia: Education, A Refugee's Call to Serve

War forced Lim Bol Thong to flee South Sudan, putting his dreams of becoming a doctor on hold. As a refugee in the Kule camp in Gambella, Ethiopia, he has found another way to serve. Just 21 years old, Lim started teaching chemistry at the school's primary school and last year was promoted to Vice Principal.
South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety Play video

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety

Years of fighting between Sudan and rebel forces have sent more than 240,000 people fleeing to neighbouring South Sudan, a country embroiled in its own conflict. After weeks on foot, Amal Bakith and her five children are settling in at Ajoung Thok refugee camp where they receive food, shelter, access to education and land.
From refugee 'Lost Boy' to state education ministerPlay video

From refugee 'Lost Boy' to state education minister

The subject of the best-selling book What is the What, Valentino Achak Deng's journey has taken him from Sudanese 'Lost Boy' to education minister in his home state in South Sudan. He talks here about the causes of displacement, the risks of politicizing refugee resettlement, and the opportunities that come with staying positive.