Refugee professionals serving the community in Namibia

News Stories, 22 November 2010

© UNHCR/T.Ghelli
Refugee Olivier Lino, who fled civil war in his native Angola almost 15 years go, now serves as a chief prosecutor in northern Namibia.

OSIRE, Namibia, November 22 (UNHCR) When Victoire Mpelo fled his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, practising medicine again was probably one of the last things on his mind. Yet, some 10 years later, the doctor is kept busy every day, looking after fellow refugees in Namibia's Osire settlement.

Meanwhile, the nearby Osire Secondary School, headed by another refugee, Come Niyongabo from Burundi, is ranked among the top secondary education establishments in the country. When it comes to social services, the refugees in Namibia's dusty Osire settlement are almost completely self-sufficient.

The Namibian government, to its credit, decided two years ago that it should tap the expertise of the 8,000 refugees living in Osire rather than rely on government employees or others to provide basic services in the camp and surrounding area.

"In most African countries, financial support from UNHCR is required to provide the basic services in the refugee camps and this is usually done through NGOs or the health, education or other relevant ministries, but with funding provided by UNHCR," said Lawrence Mgbangson, UNHCR's representative in Windhoek. "Namibia is quite unique in that it recognizes its responsibility and is taking steps to ensure that skilled refugees are hired," he added.

Professionals like Mpelo and Niyongabo are now paid by the government, receiving the same salaries as civil servants. They are also included in training programmes. The only difference is that they do not receive a housing allowance.

Mpelo is delighted to be working again and the daily queue outside his clinic shows that he is kept busy. He made his way to Zambia and then Namibia from the Fizi region of Congo's South Kivu province to escape conflict, and after being repeatedly harassed because of his ethnic origin.

UNHCR helped Mpelo get his medical certificates translated and recognized by the relevant health boards in Namibia, making him eligible to practise. He jumped at the chance when asked to work in the Osire clinic.

"Having a doctor based in Osire, has made a tremendous impact," said Ester Namwandi, a senior regional health official who added that having Mpelo on the ground allowed for a quicker response to emergencies. "If he wasn't there, critical cases would have to be transported to Otjiwarango hospital, over an hour-and-a-half away, and sometimes there just isn't enough time."

Some of the nurses, such as Anna Chica Julia Ricardo, are also refugees. The Angolan has been living in Osire since 1994 and was hired by the Red Cross to help in the clinic. But, since 2008, she has been an employee of the Ministry of Health. "This was not my plan . . . I guess I was just needed," she said.

Down the road, more than 1,700 children, including around 100 Namibians from the host community, study at Osire's primary school. The headmaster, Carlos Sukuakueche, fled his native Angola in 1994. His counterpart at the neighbouring secondary school, the Burundian Niyongabo, came to Namibia in 1996.

Here he has a chance to create something positive and to help young people establish a platform for a fruitful future. The results are startling. Last year, Osire students' exam results were among the top 13 per cent in the whole country.

"I am proud of the record of this school and how well our students have done," Niyongabo told UNHCR. He said a new challenge would be to get funding and scholarships to send some of them to university. "It pains me to see some of my brightest students still in the settlement, unable to go further due to lack of opportunities for higher education."

At least one refugee is even helping to administer justice in Namibia. At Otjiwarango magistrate's court, Chief Prosecutor Olivier Lino warmly greets visitors. He made his way to the top after winning a scholarship through UNHCR's German-funded Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative to study law at the University of Namibia.

He graduated in the top five of his class and pushed hard to work in the public sector. "Having been discriminated against because I was from a minority in Angola and then the experience of being a refugee made me want to become a lawyer who defends human rights," Lino explained. "I serve everyone Namibians and others who need justice."

UNHCR's Mgbangson, meanwhile, is inspired by Osire. "The experience in Namibia can be an example to the world on how refugees can contribute to their host society. It not only enhances the refugees in terms of socio-economic capacity, but also assists in the peaceful co-existence endeavours with their host counterparts," he said.

By Tina Ghelli in Osire, Namibia





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.

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

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

Posted on 6 November 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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