Since creating the programme in 1992, the German Government has provided consistent support to DAFI, and has enabled UNHCR to provide over 12,000 refugee students in more than 40 host countries with the opportunity to attend university. In 2016, 4,652 refugees in 37 countries benefited from a DAFI scholarship, studying subjects ranging from health to engineering. The increase in refugee movements in recent years inspired the German Government to expand support to the programme by 100%, adding 2,331 scholarships in 2016 alone. Gender parity has increased over time, with women now receiving 44% of all scholarships.
In 2017, the DAFI scholarship programme will continue to grow and expand, offering higher education opportunities to more than 5,000 refugees in 50 countries. 11 of the 13 new participating countries in 2017 are in Africa. To contribute to the success of DAFI students, and to the programme aim for increased self-reliance, scholarship applicants are interviewed by local committees and selected for their academic skills, their motivation for study and evidence of community engagement and leadership ability.
Once admitted, students receive financial assistance and tailored support based on their particular needs and the realities of the contexts in which they will study. This might mean additional language support, computer courses or legal advice on their rights as refugee students. Frequently, supplementary support comes from peers in DAFI clubs, which are established in each country so that UNHCR can monitor student support needs, and so that scholarship recipients can share knowledge and strategies, as well as plan outreach support
activities for their communities. The peer support and impact on social cohesion between host and refugee students as a result of being a DAFI scholarship recipient was well described by Samuel, a 26 year old South Sudanese student attending Jomo Kenyatta University in Nairobi:
“DAFI is like a family to me. I am really thankful. Through DAFI I’ve met students from Rwanda, Somalia, Uganda, etc. Education is not all about being good in class. You also learn how to coexist with different people from different backgrounds. Appreciating this or that person that is sitting next to you or that you are meeting with is really valuable. Now I am okay with anybody. I became very tolerant.”
The benefits of the programme resonate long after students finish their studies. DAFI students are active members in their communities during and after they complete their degrees and serve as role models for children and youth who can be inspired to remain in school and succeed academically.
Simon, a South Sudanese DAFI alumni in Uganda, became an important member of his community. He cofounded a refugee youth led initiative which fosters peaceful co-existence between different South Sudanese communities as well as host and refugee communities. Amina, a refugee from the Central African Republic finished her studies on a DAFI scholarship and is now working as a midwife in a health centre of a Chadian village. Marie Chantal, a Rwandan DAFI alumni living in Mozambique is not only mentoring other DAFI students but also working in a health clinic in Maratane refugee camp twice a week to treat patients.
Higher education provides students with the opportunity to become leaders and role models in their communities and increases their capacity for self-determination both while they are displaced and once they return home to countries that will benefit from their skills, knowledge and experience. Reflecting on the impact of the experience Marie Chantal said:
”The DAFI scholarship is extremely important for all refugees. It helps them to gain skills so that they can become contributors to society and support their families, instead of relying on international aid.”
The DAFI programme supports refugee students to explore their full potential, in contexts where the challenges to self-determination are difficult to overcome. The hopes and dreams of DAFI students and graduates are perhaps greater than the hopes and dreams of university students anywhere else on earth. Higher education helps refugee students to maintain their hope for the future, and puts them on equal footing with university students across the globe.
“The campus is a safe place. There, no one cares
if I’m a refugee or not. I’m just a student.”
Hodan, 24 year old Somali student in Kenya