UNHCR – Refugees can once more dream of scholarships in Italy Donate

“These are my thoughts and prayers”Jules says with a smile as he points to a wall of hand-scribbled notes and quotes in his cozy studio a short walk from Piazza della Signoria in the heart of Florence. “I write anything that inspires me, it helps me focus. »

When Jules, then a Congolese refugee living in Ethiopia, learned that he had been accepted for a master’s degree in natural resource management at the University of Florence, he gave Google information about the city. Now, after more than a year, he can confirm that his first impression of a beautiful and friendly city was correct. “My faculty is really very inclusive. Many other international students from all over the world study with me, and I have learned as much from them as the courses themselves. ”will be confident.

“My teachers are wonderful people who have supported me beyond my expectations; they became like a family. »

Just a few months after his birth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jules’ two parents were killed in an ethnic conflict and his aunt’s family took him in Goma, North Kivu. Clashes in the area continued to escalate and the family lived under constant threat of violence. “You’ll get used to this life, but the day will come when you say, ‘I won’t wait here to die,’ so we left.he says.

After a complicated journey, he and his family reached Ethiopia, where they were registered as refugees and housed in the Sherkole refugee camp. “In the camp they measured salt in a small cup; there was no sugar, nothing, we learned to make meals using our imagination, but I was happier than if I had a big meal in the Congo. At least I could sleep peacefully – there was peace and I was safe “he mentions.

Only after a stay in the camp could Jules start thinking about his future. He feared that as a refugee he would never be able to continue his education. “I have often seen recent graduates [de l’université] return to camp, maybe two or three people a year. They were esteemed members of the community, each looking up to them and seeking advice. I knew that was what I wanted. “continues.

  • Jules crosses the city of Florence towards the university campus. © UNHCR / Michele Borzoni

  • Jules talks to Professor Albert Tonini at the University of Florence, where he is enrolled in a course in natural resource management.

    Jules talks to Professor Albert Tonini at the University of Florence, where he is enrolled in a course in natural resource management. © UNHCR / Michele Borzoni

  • Jules studies in his apartment in Florence, where the walls are lined with handwritten notes and quotes.

    Jules studies in his apartment in Florence, where the walls are lined with handwritten notes and quotes. © UNHCR / Michele Borzoni

Thanks to her commitment and a DAFI scholarship, Jules was able to enroll at the University of Gambella in Ethiopia a few years later. There he became interested in agriculture, especially small-scale farming and fishing, which was run by the local community. He watched them struggle during periods of drought that had lengthened and worsened over the years. “Waiting for the rain to return seemed like the only thing that needed to be done, but I thought that thanks to new knowledge and better technology, these communities could approach droughts differently, so they could be self-sufficient throughout the season. »

When he heard from one of his friends about the University Refugee Corridors (UNICORE) program, he signed up without believing it. “The chances of you being selected for one of the scholarships on offer were so slim”he mentions. “When I received the e-mail from the University of Florence … I was speechless, I was overwhelmed with happiness. »

UNICORE aims to increase opportunities for refugees living in Ethiopia for higher education in Italy through a partnership between Italian universities and UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. This project is part of UNHCR’s broader goal of creating safe roads so that refugees can pursue their dreams of a better future without having to risk their lives on dangerous roads.

“Refugees need such opportunities. »

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

Following the launch of the pilot phase in 2019, the UNICORE project has since grown to offer a total of 70 scholarships at 28 universities across the country. In 2021, 45 refugees received a scholarship to complete a course in Italy.

Jules is expected to graduate this summer. He plans to return to his family and use his new skills to help refugees and local people make a living without outside help, even as the weather becomes drier and more unpredictable. “Refugees need such opportunities”talking about his scholarship.

“The more skills refugees have, the more they can make a living. They need knowledge to be heard, to be independent and also to be able to dream again. »

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