University for camp refugees in Rwanda

Even as Rwanda hosts the first global experimental university for camp refugees, lack of access to higher education continues to be a challenge among them.

Testimonies from most of the girls, most of whom were either born in the camp or fled their country at a tender age, indicate that school life ends at secondary level — meaning that most of them end up seeking any way to survive. This could explain why many refugees resort to prostitution or become victims of early pregnancies, which continue to destroy their lives.

However, 25 Congolese refugee youths at Kiziba refugee camp, Karongi District, one of the oldest such facilities in Rwanda, are to benefit from the first ever refugees university programme although thousands more will have to wait longer to get a similar chance.

Tantin Nyirabintu, 20, is one of the lucky Congolese girls who now has a chance to continue her studies thanks to the programme, which was recently launched in Rwanda with funding from IKEA foundation, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Rwanda and Kepler University.

The mother of a one-month-old baby got pregnant as a result of not being able to continue with her education despite having scored good grades at Secondary Four (S4) level.

Ms Nyirabintu says her unplanned pregnancy was a result of idleness, poverty and lack of a Rwandan national identity card to enable her to enrol in a state-funded university.

Even after four years Ms Nyirabintu’s hopes of achieving her dreams were doomed, she did not give up but looked for a temporary job as a primary school teacher in the camp.

Minister for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (Midimar) Seraphine Mukantabana described the Kepler programme as a milestone.

“Education is a right for all and we believe that technical education can be a good solution and, as a government, we are going to address this need as soon as possible,” she said.

Admission limited to 25

For many others in her situation, however, chances of having this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity are slim since admission is limited to the 25 who pass the admission test annually.

“I am lucky to have a second chance in life, to be selected out of more than 700 applicants,” said Ms Nyirabintu. “Many other girls also have good results but cannot enrol in public schools because we do not have Rwandan identity cards.”

With little restriction at the camp, some of the girls end up engaging in pre-marital relations or work as housemaids and sex workers in Kibuye town while the boys resort to abusing drugs and getting involved in other illicit behaviour.

Esperance Mukamusoni, a camp leader, agrees that limitation to education opportunities is one of the causes of prostitution among refugee girls, which has resulted in many unplanned teenage pregnancies.

“The number of girls in the camp is bigger than boys, with at least 80 per cent of the female,” said Ms Mukamusoni. “We try to educate the girls about their reproductive health but the lack of formal education for girls is beyond our ability and is the main hazard for girls.”

While other girls in Rwanda receive support of the government and benefit from programmes such as the fight against early pregnancy, most of the female refuges say they have tried to intervene in vain due to limited support.