Forging Forward to a Better Future

Refugee doctor now serving the refugee and host community in Mozambican refugee camp, hopes to become a citizen


Dr. Marie Chantal Nzayisaba meets with a Congolese patient at the health center in Maratane refugee camp in Mozambique.   © UNHCR/Tina Ghelli

MARATANE, Mozambique - Dr. Marie Chantal Nzayisaba is doing her residency to become a stomatologist, also known as a specialist in oral medicine, for the Ministry of Health in Mozambique. Twice a week she travels to the health center in Maratane refugee camp located some 35 kms from Nampula city in Nampula Province to treat patients.

It is particularly meaningful for her to work in this clinic, because Dr. Nzayisaba is also a refugee. When she was one year old, her parents fled to Mozambique from Rwanda. She doesn’t remember that much about when happened to their family before they left Rwanda. Nzayisaba grew up in Mozambique, became fluent in Portuguese and the local language.

After graduating from high school where she studied sciences, she was accepted into the University of Nampula to study oral medicine. In 2012, she applied for the UNHCR scholarship programme, the Albert Einstein German Acadamic Refugee Initiative Fund known by its German acronym, DAFI and was accepted.

Being awarded the DAFI scholarship programme made a huge difference for Nzayisaba. Not only were her school fees and living expenses covered, but she was also able to afford a dentistry kit that was needed for the practical assessments.

“Without the DAFI scholarship, it would have been very difficult for me to finish my studies, since I would not have been able to buy the tools needed. I also believe my grades would have suffered since I would have had to find another way to support myself,” says Nzayisaba

She recently graduated from Nampula University and is now volunteering with the Ministry of Health in Nampula district.  While she enjoys building her skills, she also felt a calling to give back to the community. She then proposed to the Ministry of Health to see if she could support the clinic in Maratane refugee camp by providing dentistry services at the health center. Her request was approved and she has been volunteering in the camp, helping both the refugee and host community since April 2017.

Nzayisaba also mentors other DAFI students. “The DAFI scholarship is extremely important for all refugees. It helps them to gain skills so that they can become contributors to society and support their families, instead of relying on international aid.”

Being a refugee for over 20 years in Mozambique, she also qualifies to apply for Mozambican citizenship.  The local UNHCR office has helped her to submit an application and she hopes it will be approved soon.

“I am not ashamed to be a refugee, but every time you present your refugee ID card, people become apprehensive. Also being a national will give me more credibility and enable me to be able to open a bank account,” says Nzayisiaba.

In addition to protection and assistance for refugees, UNHCR also works towards finding durable solutions for refugees. There are three main durable solutions, voluntary repatriation, when conditions improve in home countries and refugees can return home, resettlement, being accepted to a third country and the final one is local integration, being given an alternative legal status or citizenship in the country of asylum.

 “No one should be a refugee forever,” says Hans Lunshof, UNHCR’s Representative to Mozambique.

 “It is therefore very positive that a country like Mozambique has the national legislation to enable refugees like Dr. Nzayisaba who meet the criteria to apply for citizenship and become fully locally integrated into the host community.”

It will take a few months before the decision is made and in the meantime, Nzayisaba will continue to serve both Mozambican and refugee patients.

 “I have lived more of my life in Mozambique than my home country. I feel both Mozambican and Rwandan. But the day I get my Mozambican citizenship I will finally feel free. That doesn’t mean I will forget my roots, which will always be Rwandan, but I will have a solid future,” says Nzayisaba.