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German scholarship widens options for refugees in Russia

News Stories, 30 December 2008

© UNHCR/N.Deryabina
Iraqi refugee Amal (right) joins other DAFI scholarship students in a training session on professional and social integration.

MOSCOW, Russian Federation, December 30 (UNHCR) When she first arrived in Russia from Iraq at the tender age of 12, she had nothing no money, no friends, no way to communicate and no roof over her head. Eleven years later, Amal is studying to become a doctor, thanks to a scholarship funded by the German government.

She still shudders when she remembers the day her parents, brother, sister and herself found themselves completely lost in the snowy streets of St. Petersburg. But she has come a long way since then.

"Until the last moment I could not believe that I would be lucky to fulfil my dream and receive a university education here in Russia," said Amal, now 23 and living in Moscow with her family. "It was the DAFI programme that helped me."

DAFI is the Albert Einstein Academic Refugee Initiative that since 1992, has been funded by the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany and implemented in a number of host countries, among them Russia. The primary objective of this programme is to help deserving young refugees to pursue professional qualifications geared towards future employment and social integration in host countries or upon return to their home countries.

From 1994 to 2001, 170 young refugees in the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus benefited from the programme. Since 2002, it has run only in Russia, helping 185 students and post-graduate students to graduate from universities and colleges in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other regions of Russia.

In 2008, the DAFI programme is benefiting 26 scholars in the educational institutions of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ivanovo, Belgorod, Volgograd, Kalyazin and Makhachkala. The majority of scholars come from Afghanistan and African countries, with smaller numbers from the Middle East and Asia.

Support is provided through either monthly scholarships or payment of tuition fees through contracts with educational institutions. The support may also include partial remuneration of transportation costs or lump-sum payments to last-year students to formalize their graduation papers.

The scholar selection process prioritizes talented candidates who intend to pursue education in applied sciences, such as computer technologies, education, medicine, pharmacology, engineering, construction, agriculture, chemical technologies, and communications.

Some scholars have more than one specialty. Lemma was two when she and her entire family came from Afghanistan to Moscow. All family members parents, a sister and two brothers have refugee status in Russia. Now 21, she works as a nurse in the outpatient clinic of Magee WomanCare International, UNHCR's partner organization that provides medical services to refugees and asylum-seekers.

"I received my education as a medical nurse through the DAFI scholarship and now work in my specialty," said Lemma. "However, I continue with my studies, this time by correspondence as a law student. I need legal knowledge, as I help translate when courts consider appeals from my compatriots to refusals from migration services about granting asylum."

In addition to providing scholarships, the DAFI project in Russia is also a youth club for refugee children. Scholars, graduates and prospective candidates from among senior pupils traditionally meet several times a year. Trainings in professional and social integration are conducted to provide support in future job placement.

All scholars are members of the DAFI international Internet club that has its own website, "Education for Refugees" (www.refed.org). The site allows them to share stories about themselves, their friends, academic progress and problems encountered. They may also find friends in other countries and acquire other useful information.

By Vera Soboleva in Moscow, Russian Federation

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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.

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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.

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Displacement in Georgia

Tens of thousands of civilians are living in precarious conditions, having been driven from their homes by the crisis in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

On the morning of August 12, the first UNHCR-chartered plane carrying emergency aid arrived in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, the first UN assistance to arrive in the country since fighting broke out the previous week. The airlift brought in 34 tonnes of tents, jerry cans, blankets and kitchen sets from UNHCR's central emergency stockpile in Dubai. Items were then loaded onto trucks at the Tbilisi airport for transport and distribution.

A second UNHCR flight landed in Tbilisi on August 14, with a third one expected to arrive the following day. In addition, two UNHCR aid flights are scheduled to leave for Vladikavkaz in the Russian Federation the following week with mattresses, water tanks and other supplies for displaced South Ossetians.

Working with local partners, UNHCR is now providing assistance to the most vulnerable and needy. These include many young children and family members separated from one another. The situation is evolving rapidly and the refugee agency is monitoring the needs of the newly displaced population, which numbered some 115,000 on August 14.

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