GICUMBI — With barely a week to begin the next academic year, over 200 children of Congolese refugees at the Gihembe refugee camp, who sat for 2008 senior three National examinations are anxious after the Jesuit Refugee Committee (JRS) announced a decision to stop sponsoring their education.
The JRS which was catering for the students in the refugee camps of Gihembe and Kiziba in Gicumbi and Karongi districts late last year announced that they would stop the programme effective this academic year, citing financial constraints.
At a meeting with parents held at the Gihembe refugee camp on November 25 2008, most parents expressed worry that their children could drop out of school.
The meeting was chaired by the director of JRS at Gihembe refugee camp, Dona Day Don Harvey and attended by UNHCR and Ministry of Local government (MINALOC) officials.
The MINALOC representative at the camp, Mark Shakagabo, said JRS is financially constrained to sponsor students who will be joining senior four this year- due to rising humanitarian crisis.
“The fate of these students will be determined in another meeting that will be convened soon between UNHCR and the National Council for Refugees,” Shakagabo said.
Innocent Muhire Rwasamanzi, the chairman of the Gihembe refugees described the JRS’s decision to suspend the education sponsorship for the refugee students as a betrayal.
“JRS has been paying school fees for senior three finalists for all the past years, how can they claim to have run short of funds towards the end of 2008, knowing very well that refugees have no immediate source of income to pay school fees for their children ,” he told The New Times this week.
Efforts to contact the JRS director Dona Harvey on this matter were fruitless because she could not answer her cell phone.
However, in an interview late last year, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Rwanda, said they were sourcing out funds to pick the bills for affected Congolese students following the pull out of their major sponsor.
Honorine Sommet-Lange, a senior Protection Officer with UNHCR in Rwanda, said upon receiving communication from JRS, UNHCR started negotiating with donors to be able to pay scholastic needs for those who will have successfully passed last year’s national examination for Ordinary level students.
“We need to discuss with donors to get the money and we hope that we will get a positive feedback,” Sommet-Lange said then.
She added that JRS’s decision was communicated after UNHCR programme in Rwanda had already planned its budget for this year and it had not included paying school fees for the 375 secondary students in the two camps that JRS has been supporting.