News Stories, 18 December 2003
ISLAMABAD, Dec 18 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency today took a first step towards opening dialogue between Afghanistan and its refugee students on scholarship in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.
On Thursday, UNHCR held a one-day workshop in Islamabad for Afghan refugee students receiving a German-funded scholarship under the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI) to discuss problems they face studying in different professional institutions in Pakistan.
The event was attended by Rehmatullah Mussa Ghazi, Minister Counsellor of the Afghan Embassy in Pakistan; Tahiana Andriamasomanana, Assistant Representative of Programmes at UNHCR Islamabad; UNHCR delegates from Iran and Afghanistan, and a large number of Afghan refugee students.
"Afghan refugee students are requested to take most available opportunities in Pakistan as today educated youth are most wanted in Afghanistan," said the Afghan Minister Counsellor, noting that education was the worst hit sector during the long years of instability in Afghanistan.
"Afghan refugees living in Pakistan were lucky as they had access to education facilities which the majority in Afghanistan lacked. The new government, after taking charge of affairs, has put more emphasis on education," said Ghazi, adding that Afghanistan needed its educated refugee youth to return and serve their homeland.
UNHCR's Andriamasomanana noted that Thursday's workshop was the first step towards opening up channels of communication between Afghanistan and its DAFI-sponsored scholarship students in Pakistan and Iran. She promised more workshops to come in the near future.
Student leaders Mohammad Maqbool and Zahira Hafizullah thanked UNHCR and the German government for the DAFI scholarship programme. "We acknowledge that the financial assistance extended through UNHCR by the German government has been a great help to Afghan refugee students in Pakistan," they said. "Without this assistance, most of us could not have possibly continued our education. We take this opportunity to request UNHCR and the German government to continue this financial support."
The DAFI programme in Pakistan was started in 1992, awarding 826 scholarships in different disciplines over the years. It currently assists 116 Afghan refugee students there. Another 600 Afghan students in Iran have benefited from the programme since it started there in 1995.
"The scholarship is meant to promote self-reliance of refugees by providing them with a professional qualification geared towards future employment," said Nasir Sahibzada, UNHCR's Education Officer in Islamabad. "It covers the financial expenses of a refugee student over a period ranging from one year to the maximum of five years."
Presenting the results of their workshop discussions, the Afghan refugee students recommended more simplified admission procedures for Pakistan's institutions and better information sharing on educational and developmental issues in Afghanistan.
UNHCR Kabul's Roya Sharifi said that her office was looking into courses and other information on educational institutions in Afghanistan. She said this information had already been shared with the refugee agency's offices in Pakistan for Afghan students to refer to should they decide to continue their studies upon their return.