From  Mentao To Goudoubo And To Dori: Malian Refugee Education Unrest

Burkina Faso has been home recently for many Malians fleeing conflicts. Counting nearly 20,000 refugees, many of whom have recently fled the camps  are “seeking safety in other parts of the country or even returning to their homeland,” UNHCR reports. Burkina Faso has equally been battling with managing a huge internal displacement of people for over the past 12 months which has risen five-fold, reaching 921,000 at the end of June 2020.

Burkina Faso has not been exempted from the countless indiscriminate attacks by armed groups against both civilians and state institutions – including schools. For example, a UNICEF report revealed between April 2017 and December 2019 the number of school closures due to violence in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger rose six-fold. This resulted in more than 3,300 schools shutting down, affecting almost 650,000 children, and more than 16,000 teachers. The disturbing figures are even more prevalent in Burkina Faso where 2,500 had been closed pre-coronavirus, rendering 350,000 children without education.

The narrative of a Malian refugee called Oumar Ag Ousmane whose hopes in education have been fading is a unique example relatable for most refugee children, UNHCR said. The violence left Oumar and thousands of children in Mentao camp in despair as teachers and pupils couldn’t come to school.

 “I was very sad to have to stay home all day,” he said. 

Hailing from Mopti town in Mali where there were no schools, Burkina Faso was an answered prayer for his education ambition. Already 17-years old but unable to graduate to the secondary school level because he couldn’t take the crucial national examination, Oumar’s father moved to Goudoubo refugee camp, further to the east. Due to another disruption, his family relocated to Dori Camp where he has begun his first year of secondary school, older than his classmates- a common unfortunate reality for millions of refugee children.

Speaking to UNHCR, he says, “Everything was going smoothly. But classes had to stop again – this time because of the COVID-19 outbreak.”  

Since 1 June, the three school grades that were due to take exams this year have reopened and UNHCR is doing what it can to find places for refugee children. 

It is applaudable that the UNHCR, with the support of  Education Cannot Wait, began buying radios for primary and secondary refugee students to ensure they had the same access as their Burkinabe peers to lessons being broadcast over the airwaves. Still, in an attempt to curb the education gap, UNHCR is also working with governments to enable emergency education for displaced children and youth via access to safe distance learning alternatives.

Millions of refugee children like Oumar hunger for opportunities to study even beyond the traumatic violence experiences and the challenges of a stable home. Their aspirations for a stable career and a professional life needs to be heard and considered when decisions are made. Governments, international organizations, and national organizations should continue to mount pressure in ensuring these children are not left behind because of conflicts and attacks they did not cause. Support for the education of refugee children should always be a discussion topic.

Sarah Namondo