Paris, France – The day has yet to dawn on the runway at Charles-de-Gaulle airport. In terms of arrivals, many families are already present to receive their relatives from Guinea, Ethiopia or Niger. Several people peer through the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of their relatives or friends picking up luggage and belongings after a long night flight.
Among the flow of passengers who pass through the reinforced controls due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Nabila, a 25-year-old Central African woman who took refuge in Cameroon, stands out. Your baggage for the next two years will accompany you. “I am very happy to be here”she said with a big smile, settling into a cafe to recover from her trip. “But I didn’t leave my mother all day before departure”she adds, laughing.
Almost a week later, it was Arabi’s turn to set foot on French soil from Niger. When the young man finally clears customs, he completes a long journey, which took him to a stopover in Addis Ababa before arriving in Paris. Calm and pleasant despite fatigue, we can read in his eyes the determination to fully understand this new stage of his career.
Two refugee students from Central Africa get a scholarship to study in France
The two young Central Africans will spend the next few years in Clermont-Ferrand, central France, to study communication and marketing at the master’s level. They will share an apartment in the city of Montferrand, thanks to the solidarity shared accommodation system supported by the AFEV Auvergne association.
Its arrival was made possible by the creation of a university corridor – a legal and safe way to complement the resettlement that offers refugees residing in a first country of asylum access to higher education in a third country and administrative and social assistance during their stay – thanks to the joint venture of the University of Clermont-Auvergne (UCA), the NGO Forum Réfugiés-Cosi and UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Only 5% of refugees enrolled in higher education
According to the latest UNHCR report “Staying the Course: The Challenges of Refugee Education”, only five percent of forcibly displaced people worldwide had access to higher education in 2020. An increase of 2 points from the previous year, which represents a positive development for thousands of refugees and their communities, but a number still far from the 15 by 30 target of UNHCR and its partners: 15% of refugees enrolled in university by the year 2030.
“There are many refugees in Cameroon and around the world who are brilliant and would like to continue their education”, explains Marion Le Guen, UNHCR protection officer in Douala, Cameroon. The latter worked on Nabila’s archive and accompanied her to the airport before her departure. “However, many of them cannot continue for lack of opportunities or means to pay for their studies”. In the taxi that takes him to Paris within the walls, Arabi agrees: “I’ve met many refugees who want to study, but sometimes they don’t have the opportunity. »
UNHCR and its partners are trying to overcome these pitfalls by developing university corridors in third countries. This often requires the mobilization of support and resources from many actors, including government authorities. In the case of Nabila and Arabi, the French embassies in Cameroon and Niger played a key role in granting them a social security grant, covering travel expenses by plane and then by train to Clermont-Ferrand, and granting them a student seen.
“I am impressed by Miss Nabila Oumar Hassan’s career”declares the French ambassador to Cameroon, Christophe Guillhou, “and I am delighted that the Embassy has awarded him a scholarship to finance his master’s project at the University of Clermont Auvergne. I wish him all the best and a great stay in France. »
Nabila might have missed this opportunity had it not been for her fierce determination to build another future. A brilliant student, she obtained her bachelor’s degree in 2011 in Bangui at the age of 15. As she waited impatiently to get into university, her family told her it was time to get married, like the other girls around her.
“I had a hard time continuing my studies, she remembers. My parents thought that a Muslim woman didn’t need much education and that it was time for me to get married, but I didn’t want to. I wasn’t ready to start a family. »
Nabila was 19 years old in December 2014 when her family made the trip to Douala for refuge, curled up in the back of a truck with strangers. All fleeing the turmoil of Bangui. Adapting to a new country and her refugee status was difficult, but she held on to her dreams. Her parents were thrilled when she got the scholarship.
Humanitarian work, opening an orphanage and business
What do the two students want once the Master’s degree is validated? “I would like to work in the humanitarian field, because who better than a refugee to understand his own brothers and sisters? », explains Nabila in the courtyard of the Gare de Bercy, where she managed to find part of her family before boarding the train to Auvergne. “I know the difficulties, I know how it is. I would like to be that person who calms them down, who makes them understand that they can have confidence, that they can open up. »
For Arabi, who ran a cafe in Niamey in recent years before seeing his study file accepted, the project is “create an orphanage” in your home country. “I always said that even if I have children, I have to adopt, and I always have this idea of creating an orphanage. » Before that, the elegant young man intends to enter the business: “I have a family in charge, so the future project is also to be undertaken. »
Nabila shares the hope that her story will be a beacon of hope for other refugees and that she will encourage many families to send their daughters to school.
“I want to inspire young people through my story, show them that if I, a young Muslim refugee, can do it, so can they.”she said with conviction. “Our girls are smart. Give them a pen and paper, let them go to school and then you will see what they are capable of. »
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