Last August, after years of uncertainty, the Tanzanian government took the decision to close the last Burundian refugee camp on its territory. As a result, 33’819 Burundian residents of the Mtabila camp have been repatriated to Burundi. Dramatically, the formal education programmes in the camp were closed in 2009, leaving thousands of refugee youth without any chance to go to school, since.
RET therefore sent a needs and assets assessment team to the transit centres of Mabanda, Musenyi and Gitara in November. The objective was to have a better understanding of the limited education available in the camp and evaluating the capacity of Burundi’s southern provinces to integrate returnees into their formal educational systems.
RET calculated, through surveys with 50 youth, that the average educational backlog among adolescents and youth is five years. Many are too far behind to integrate successfully Burundi’s educational system.
After the camp’s formal education programmes had closed in 2009, many youth showed incredible resilience and creativity. Some immerged themselves in self-learning activities. Others regularly walked 40km to the closest Congolese refugee camp to follow the Congolese curriculum. Unfortunately, this informal education is not recognised by the Burundian Ministry of Education.
Another issue concerns sharing of information. A majority of returnees are not aware of their right to education or how to register in local schools. The educational authorities do not know exactly how many returnees will enter the system and what their current level is. There is equally a lack of infrastructure and trained teachers. The reintegration of returnees will most probably further undermine the quality of education in these provinces.
These findings are troubling when linked to a previous study carried out by RET on the impact of repatriation on schooling. It was found that repatriation reduced secondary education enrolment by up to 75%. Without education, the youth will be marginalised and at risk of becoming easy targets for recruitment into street gangs, armed groups, forced labour, prostitution and other types of abuses. This outcome would undermine important gains made in Burundi’s peace process.
Presently, RET is seeking funding to equip adolescent and youth returnees with the skills and competencies needed to be able to integrate Burundi’s secondary school system by September, 2013. This can, in part, be attained by offering remedial classes and school material. For those who are too far behind, RET proposes to offer vocational training and non-formal education that focuses on youth empowerment and peace education. Many challenges lie ahead and RET is committed to meeting them, but funds are needed to make this possible.