After witnessing violence and torture in Burundi, refugee youth in Rwanda are grateful for the chance to study abroad

Ten Burundian refugee students have been eligible to attend university in France on a full scholarship, thanks to the efforts of Maison Shalom.

Kigali October, 2016 – After fleeing their homes from Burundi to find safety in neighbouring Rwanda, the last thing ten refugee students ever expected was the chance to pursue their dreams of attending university in Europe.

In mid-2016, eight young men and two young women were selected among five hundred eligible Burundian refugee students to attend university in France on a full scholarship, thanks to the efforts of Maison Shalom. Marguerite Barankitse (Maggy), the founder of Maison Shalom, is a Burundian humanitarian and recipient of the Nansen Refugee Award in 2005 for her outstanding commitment to helping refugees. She particularly focuses on helping Burundian children who have lived through conflict.

Many of the young Burundian students Maison Shalom and UNHCR are supporting were forced to flee at the onset of the violence in Burundi in early 2015. Some were fortunate to escape with their parents, but others were not.

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Burundian refugee students pause for a group photo with Maggy, UNHCR Representative in Rwanda Saber Azam, and UNHCR Staff: Said Osman and Erika Fitzpatrick. [Photo/ UNHCR – Eugene Sibomana]

“My world changed and my heart sank into a black abyss forever that night. Nothing under the sun could give me the strength to live again after I was forced to watch my mom burn to death,” said 22 year-old Lionel, one of the ten students heading to France. “My two little sisters and I fled Burundi a few weeks later. I knew it would never be the same again.”

Once safe in Rwanda, UNHCR offers each refugee student the chance to pursue English language courses to prepare them to be included in national schools per the Government of Rwanda’s generous policy of integration. Maison Shalom has been able to support UNHCR by offering scholarships to exceptional refugee students to go even further in the education cycle.

“This was my chance,” said Lionel, “After I had lost my mother, I knew that university would not be a priority as my family would not be able to afford the costs. I made the decision to step up and do my best to win this scholarship. After written tests and oral interviews, I received the best news ever.”

Before their departure, the students met the UNHCR Representative in Rwanda, Mr. Saber Azam, together with Maggy to express their gratitude for UNHCR’s support during their time in Rwanda as refugees. During their exchanges, Mr. Azam told the students: “There is so much potential amongst refugee youth, and we have experienced some great leaders of the world in different domains who were refugees. People must realize that refugees are like any other human beings with aspirations and dreams for the realization of which they work hard. They contribute to the social and economic prosperity of their countries of asylum and the entire world. What they need is opportunity and I am so grateful to all those who have trusted UNHCR and provided support for higher education of young refugees in Rwanda.”

Lionel and the rest of the group are now preparing to leave Kigali for the “Institut Marc Perrot” in Lyon, France, aware that a new, more promising but also challenging chapter of their lives is about to begin.

“No more gunshots, no blood, and no tears; just me and my studies,” said Lionel. “This time, it will be a journey filled with excitement and expectation of what the future holds for me, my family and my homeland.”

UNHCR has been able to secure dozens of university scholarships through Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative Fund or “Deutsche Akademische Flüchtlings Initiative – DAFI” and establish the first ever university in a refugee camp with the help of IKEA foundation and Kepler University. UNHCR receives valuable support from the Howard Buffet Foundation for its School of Excellence initiative through which bright students are offered higher education after finishing their secondary school. 

Eugene Sibomana

Communications/PI Associate, UNHCR                            

E-mail: [email protected]