UNHCR – Hope and opportunity for refugee students in Botswana
By Kate Pond in Gaborone, Botswana | June 03, 2021
In the shade of the leaning acacia trees outside the University of Botswana Medical School, first-year medical students Linda and Xolile * relax after their final exam and discuss a future that, until ‘to recently, did not seem possible.
Women are the only refugees in their college class – recipients of newly created scholarships that provide opportunities for refugees living in Botswana’s capital, Gaborone.
“Life is safer than before entering university… we can make plans for the future,” said Linda, who left Burundi as a baby with her mother in 1998 for the ‘South Africa. Ten years later, they fled to Botswana to escape the unrest affecting foreign nationals in their Johannesburg neighborhood.
UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency and its partner, Skillshare, have advocated to expand opportunities for high-performing refugee students, and are partnering with higher education institutions and the private sector in Botswana to deliver scholarships to a growing handful of international students who, like Xolile, 19, and Linda, 22, are achieving high marks in high school.
“Life is safer… we can plan for the future. “
Refugees in Botswana attend local primary and secondary schools alongside Botswana children. Many excel in their studies, but their options after high school are limited. The government offers graduate scholarships to cover part or all of the tuition fees of Botswana students whose grades meet the required threshold, and some universities offer scholarships to students from low-income families. But refugees have traditionally not benefited from these opportunities. Most come from families who cannot afford higher education, so they end up in Dukwi refugee camp, where almost all of Botswana’s 1,010 refugees live. There, they have few job opportunities.
“It’s hard being a child in a refugee camp,” said Xolile, 19, who fled social unrest in Zimbabwe in 2008 with her mother and sister. “My friends are all gone. They were resettled in a third country or returned to Zimbabwe. Our future is here, as doctors.
Over the past year, the number of university places offered to refugees has increased. Last September, 15 refugee students were able to register thanks to scholarships. It’s a small number, but it represents a huge change in the way refugee students are treated in this country of 2.3 million.
It also serves as a reminder of the demand for higher education opportunities of internally displaced people around the world, which the nonprofit, public and private sectors could help fill.
In refugee communities around the world, the thirst for learning is as evident as it is in Dukwi. Progress lags behind demand, and while more than 77% of refugee children are enrolled in primary school, this proportion drops to 31% in secondary education and only 3% of young refugees enroll. in higher education.
The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse the small gains made. For girls in particular, the situation is grim. Around the world, many families feel pressured to push their daughters to marry early or to work in order to alleviate economic hardship.
Haskins, 25, fled Zimbabwe in 2008 and dreams of giving back to the country that has sheltered his family. He is now the only foreign-born student in his class at Botho University in Gaborone, where he studies business administration. After graduating, he hopes to say to the capital and provide for his mother and younger brother.
“I want a better life for all of us,” he said.
Haskins is the first refugee to receive a scholarship from Botho University, but the school plans to offer more.
Golekanye Setume, Deputy Vice Chancellor, sees these scholarships as an investment in the community and the future of Botswana.
“I see the integration of Haskins into the almost entirely Batswana student body as a successful first step. Next year, with the support of UNHCR, one place will become two, ”he said.
Haskins, Linda and Xolile now feel invested in Botswana and see their time at university as a transition to a more secure future, doing their favorite jobs in the capital.
“I feel like a Motswana,” Haskins said.
*Only first names were used for protection reasons.
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