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Education for Rwanda’s refugee children under threat due to reduced UN funding

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  • A United Nations refugee agency has announced $90.5 million in funding cuts.
  • The reduced U.N. funding is jeopardizing the education of tens of thousands of refugee children.
  • The funding constraints have also affected provisions such as food, shelter, and health care for Rwanda’s refugees.

Cuts to U.N. funding for refugees living in Rwanda is threatening the right to education for children in more than 100,000 households who have fled conflict from different East African countries to live in five camps.

A Burundian refugee, Epimaque Nzohoraho, told The Associated Press on Thursday how his son’s boarding school administrator told him his son “should not bother coming back to school,” because UNHCR had stopped paying his fees.

Nzohoraho doesn’t know how much the U.N. refugee agency had been paying, because funds were directly paid to the school, but he had “hoped education would save his son’s future.”

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Last weekend, UNHCR announced funding cuts to food, education, shelter and health care as hopes to meet the $90.5 million in funding requirements diminished.

UNHCR spokesperson Lilly Carlisle said that only $33 million had been received by October, adding that “the agency cannot manage to meet the needs of the refugees.”

Rwanda hosts 134,519 refugees — 62.20% of them have fled from neighboring Congo, 37.24% from Burundi and 0.56% from other countries, according to data from the country’s emergency management ministry.

Hutu refugee women and children wait to be registered in Rwanda, after arriving from a U.N. plane from Kisangai, Zaire, on May 4, 1997.  (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim, File)

Among those affected is 553 refugee schoolchildren qualified to attend boarding schools this year, but won’t be able to join because of funding constraints. The UNCHR is already supporting 750 students in boarding schools, Carlisle said. The termly school fees for boarding schools in Rwanda is $80 as per government guidelines.

Funding constraints have also hit food cash transfers, which reduced from $5 to $3 per refugee per month since last year.

Chantal Mukabirori, a Burundian refugee living in eastern Rwanda’s Mahama camp, says with reduced food rations, her four children are going hungry and refusing to go to school.

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“Do you expect me to send children to school when I know there is no food?” Mukabirori asked.

Carlisle is encouraging refugees to “to look for employment to support their families,” but some say this is hard to do with a refugee status.

Solange Uwamahoro, who fled violence in Burundi in 2015 after an attempted coup, says going back to the same country where her husband was killed may be her only option.

“I have no other option now. I could die of hunger … it’s very hard to get a job as a refugee,” Uwamahoro told the AP.

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Rwanda’s permanent secretary in the emergency management ministry, Phillipe Babinshuti, says the refugees hosted in Rwanda shouldn’t be forgotten in light of the increasing number of global conflicts and crises.

The funding effects on education is likely to worsen school enrollment, which data from UNHCR in 2022 showed that 1.11 million of 2.17 million refugee children in the East, Horn of Africa and Great Lakes region were out of school.

“Gross enrollment stands at 40% for pre-primary, 67% for primary, 21% for secondary and 2.1% for tertiary education. While pre-primary and primary data are in line with the global trends, secondary and tertiary enrollment rates remain much lower,” the UNHCR report read in part.



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