UNHCR – Scholarships to study in Italy help refugees realize their dreams

By: Barbara Molinario in Italy | January 25, 2022 | English | Spanish | Français

Jules, a 26-year-old student from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, looks at the shelf of the Social Sciences Library at the University of Florence. © UNHCR / Michele Borzoni

Jules points to a wall with handwritten notes and quotes in his small, quiet apartment a few steps from the center of Piazza della Signora in central Florence. “This is my library,” he said I write because it helps me stay focused. “

Gul, a Congolese refugee living in Ethiopia, searched for the city online when he heard of her pursuing a master’s degree in natural resource management at the University of Florence. Now, more than a year into the program, he can support his first idea of ​​a beautiful and hospitable city: I did.

A few months after Gul was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, her parents were killed in ethnic clashes and she was taken away by her aunt’s family in Goma, North Kivu. Fighting continues in the area, and the family lives under constant threat of violence. “You have become accustomed to this life,” he said, “but the day will come when you will say, ‘I will not wait for death here, so we are gone.'”

After a complicated journey, he and his family arrived in Ethiopia where they were registered as refugees and their stay was arranged in the Sherkol refugee camp. “At the camp, they kept a small cup of salt for us and there was no sugar and nothing, and we learned to make food out of imagination, but I was much happier than enjoying a meal in Congo. At least I could sleep with my eyes closed, “Jules remembers. Off – there’s peace, and I’m safe.”

And after some time in camp, Jules was able to think about his future. He was concerned that as a refugee he might not have the opportunity to continue his education: “I saw people who had just graduated. [من الجامعة] They come back to the camp, maybe two or three people a year. They were respected members of the community, and everyone looked at them with respect and asked for advice. I knew I wanted it for the rest of my life. “

  • Jules walks through Florence to the university campus.

    Jules walks through Florence to the university campus. © UNHCR / Michele Borzoni

  • Jules spoke with Alberto Tonini, a professor at the University of Florence, where he has taken a course on natural resource management.

    Jules spoke with Alberto Tonini, a professor at the University of Florence, where he has taken a course on natural resource management. © UNHCR / Michele Borzoni

  • Jules studies in his apartment in Florence, where handwritten notes and quotations line the wall.

    Jules studies in his apartment in Florence, where handwritten notes and quotations line the wall. © UNHCR / Michele Borzoni

Thanks to her for her design and a scholarship. Obtained through the program DAFIA few years later, Gul was admitted to Gambela University in Ethiopia. There, he became interested in agriculture, especially small-scale farming and community fishing. He also mentioned how they fought during the drought which became longer and more severe year after year “It’s just a matter of waiting for the rains to return, but I think that with better knowledge and technology, these communities can tackle the problem.” Drought is different, ”he said. Year-round for self-reliance.

When he heard about the “University Corridor for Refugees” program(Unicor) Through a friend, he applied but without much expectation. “The chances of being selected for the scholarship were very, very remote,” he recalled. “When I received the email from the University of Florence … I was surprised and delighted.”

The program aims to increase the chances for refugees living in Ethiopia to continue their higher education in Italy through a partnership between the Italian University and UNHCR. It forms part of UNHCR’s broader goal of finding safer ways for refugees to enable them to realize their dreams for a better future without risking their lives on dangerous journeys.

‘Refugees need such opportunities’

Only 5 percent of refugees are able to enroll in higher education, compared to an average of 39 percent of the general population. Together with its partners, UNHCR aims to ensure that 15% of refugees have access to higher education by 2030.

Launched in 2019 with a beta phase, the scholarship program offers a total of 70 scholarships to 28 universities across the country. In 2021, 45 refugees were awarded scholarships to pursue university degree courses in Italy.

With graduation this summer, as the climate becomes drier and more unpredictable, Jules plans to use her newly acquired experience to return to her community and help refugees and locals defend themselves without outside help. Commenting on his scholarship, he said, “Refugees need this kind of opportunity. The more skills refugees have, the more they are able to support themselves. They need knowledge to be strong, to be strong and to dream again.”

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