By Patience Folley | 16 June 2019

Accra, Ghana – Living as a refugee, far away from home and torn away from the comfort of belonging because of conflict or persecution, is a challenging experience to endure and becomes difficult when you lack access to basic needs. Education is one such basic human rights, enshrined in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Ahead of this year’s celebration of World Refugee Day, the German Federal Foreign Office and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), in collaboration with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, are organizing international conference on refugee students in higher education.

Taking place in Berlin on 20th June, its objective is to emphasize the importance of expanding access to higher education for refugees.

The Global Compact on Refugees adopted in 2018 aims to improve international cooperation to ensure that host communities get the support they need and that refugees can improve their self-reliance and resilience to lead productive lives. Though higher education and access to the labour market play an important role in ensuring this, current figures reveal that only one percent of refugees have access to higher education. The Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI), UNHCR’s flagship scholarship programme, is an example of how progress can be made in expanding access for more refugees to obtain higher education.

Three refugees living in Ghana and DAFI alumni have been invited to Berlin to share their experience.

“Education is so important. We go to school not only for certificate but also to acquire knowledge and skills. When people don’t have education, they only think of basic needs and survival” says Charlotte Kouame.


Charlotte Kouame – at the UNHCR Ghana Office. ©UNHCR/Patience Folley

Charlotte, 36, is an Ivorian refugee who sought asylum in Ghana in 2011, fleeing the post-electoral violence in her country. Although she finished her primary education in her own country, she lacked the financial means to access higher education when she arrived in Ghana. In Egyeikrom refugee camp, where she lived, her only source of income was from selling chicken wings. She volunteered at the camp’s primary school and also supported at the child-friendly space.

In 2013, the DAFI scholarship enabled her to enrol at the University of Cape Coast where she studied Bachelor of Education (French and History) to complete her first degree. “The scholarship was really helpful and I ask myself what I would have become if I hadn’t been given that opportunity,” said Charlotte. After graduating in 2017, she is currently teaching French at the University of Cape Coast.

Charlotte in class with her students. ©UNHCR/Aziabou

“I look forward to sharing my experience and advocating for more refugees to access higher education,” she said.

“In the camps, when you talk about access to higher education, there really is a need for the young people. And when the youth are meaningfully engaged, issues such as teenage pregnancy and juvenile delinquency can be curtailed”. Her message at the conference will be “Thank you for all you have done, but there is more work to do”.

Felix Sessay, 24, is a Sierra Leonean refugee who has lived in Ghana’s Krisan Camp for the past 14 years, after he and his parents fled violence in Sierra Leone in 1996.  He is currently studying at St Karol’s Nursing School, thanks to DAFI scholarship, and hoping to become a medical doctor.

Felix Sessay – at the UNHCR Office in Accra. ©UNHCR/Patience Folley

“Becoming a refugee should not stop you from advancing your education,” he said. “More refugees should be able to achieve their educational goals to the highest level” Say Felix. “With more sponsors and donors, more refugees could benefit from such scholarships for them to contribute to the country that welcome them and help rebuild their countries when they return home he added.

Felix during a laboratory session in school. ©UNHCR/Christopher Adjei

Marie N’dou is a DAFI alumni and a United Nations Volunteer with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Ghana. She will be sharing her experience as a refugee on making the transition from education to employment.

Marie N’dou, 34, fled Côte d’Ivoire in 2011 and has been living in Ampain. Already holding a Master’s Degree in French literature, she studied Business Administration at the Wisconsin University in Accra, thanks to the support of DAFI. However, after completing her MBA programme in 2015, Marie could not find a job and was returned to Ampain camp,

Together with eight other DAFI alumni in Ghana, she was selected in 2018 to become a UN Volunteer, an opportunity financed by UNHCR.

At the IOM Office in Accra where Marie works as a UN Volunteer ©UNHCR/Patience Folley

This UNHCR UN Volunteer Programme, which sees DAFI alumni offered an opportunity to volunteer with the UN, is expected to be a stepping stone in providing refugees with the necessary experience and exposure to access the job market.

Assigned as Operations Assistant with IOM, the UN Migration Agency, Marie is very happy with her UNV assignment. She also teaches French to her colleagues in the office.  “I’m doing what I have always wanted to do! I am self-reliant now and can take care of my 2 children and family” she smiles.