On the occasion of World Refugee Day, Gloria Ihirwe Ntakirutinka, a young Rwandan refugee pursuing higher education in Senegal, shares her experience and her fight for access to higher education for refugees.
Tell us about yourself. Why did you decide to advocate for education for refugees?
My name is Ihirwe, I am 21 years old and I am a student in the third year of public law. I grew up in a family that took refuge in a West African country after fleeing the Rwandan genocide. That country – Togo – is the country in which I grew up. During that time, I watched my parents – and my mother in particular – working very hard to support us. Having grown up, understanding my status as a refugee and the situation of my family which had lost everything, I realised that only one thing could help me to achieve my goals: education.
How did you go about getting access to higher education?
After obtaining the baccalaureate, I was distraught because I knew that my parents would be unable to pay for expensive higher education. I was overjoyed when I was selected, after filing an application, for a scholarship of excellence with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that would enable to continue my studies for the duration of a Bachelor’s degree in Senegal. While I am in the last year of the Bachelor’s degree, I am looking for opportunities to obtain a scholarship for a Master’s degree next year, because my current scholarship does not cover second cycle studies.
What difficulties did you face as a refugee with regard to obtaining access to higher education?
Finding a scholarship is no easy task because, in our host countries, we often do not have access to the same scholarships as the country’s nationals, although we should be treated the same as nationals. In addition, access to foreign scholarships can be difficult because our travel documents often paralyse our applications. Without a scholarship, it is very difficult to access higher education due to our families’ lack of financial resources.
What does access to higher education mean for a young refugee?
Sometimes, refugees are victims of xenophobia because they are seen as incapable people supported by society. Yet, through access to education, we hope to achieve independence, and financial independence in particular, as we want to help our families out of poverty and help our parents who gave everything to give us a future.
What message would you like to deliver in this regard on this World Refugee Day?
I would say that the greatest thing one can offer anyone is education. However, for people who have lost everything, education offers them the opportunity to build a life. Education is like a reassuring voice whispering in your ear, saying that “everything can be rebuilt, even starting from nothing”, and that give you hope that everything will work out.
The system sometimes seems to forget young refugees, boys and girls alike, who are fighting to build a life for themselves, for their families and for the community as a whole. We would like to have the same opportunities for accessing education as nationals, and we would also like recognition of our travel documents as we can be refused visas even after submitting satisfactory applications.
“Without education and skills enabling us to build our future, we are doomed to hope for help from the community. Yet, if we had had the opportunity to study as other do, we could change the world, which is to say ourselves, our families, the community, and make our contribution to the world”. That is what I would say to those abandoned young people who will depend on others against their own will if nothing changes.
Gloria Ntakirutinka, born in Lusaka in Zambia, is a Rwandan refugee. Having grown up in Togo, she completed her secondary education in Lomé and is currently pursuing Public Law studies in Dakar, Senegal. A Slam Poetry enthusiast, she advocated for access to education for refugees.