Refugee students advised to follow regular education
One year ago I would not have permitted this interview. I still had a very negative self-image then. I believed that refugees in general were regarded as a burden to Dutch society," says Bejene Tezera, from Ethiopia. In June last year Tezera graduated from the MSc programme Biotechnology. He is determined to return to Ethiopia as soon as the political situation has improved.
Bleichrodt explains: With a few exceptions, like South Africa and Eritrea, most refugees can not return home in the short term. In general therefore, we do not support refugees following English programmes." At present UAF gives financial support to about 1,700 asylum seekers receiving education in the Netherlands. Seven hundred or so are studying at university level.
Recognised refugees - those with A-status - can obtain regular grants for studying from the government. Refugees with C-status, which means permission to stay without restrictions, have to have lived in the Netherlands for at least three years, in order to qualify for a government grant. UAF receives its funds from private donations, mainly from Dutch students and personnel from educational institutions. Bleichrodt discloses that Wageningen contributes a substantial amount to those funds. In May UAF will hold a fundraising campaign among students and staff at WAU.
According to the Dean's Office, about five refugee students enrol each year for an MSc programme. Dean Hermans explains that refugee students following the MSc programmes are in a somewhat special position. She disagrees with the distinction UAF makes between regular and MSc education. She feels that if refugee MSc students are determined to go back to their countries as soon as the situation allows, these students should also be entitled to receive support from UAF. Hermans discloses that tuition fees are sometimes paid by UAF, but refugee students have to appeal to other private funds for their remaining study costs.
Tezera confirms this: I was exempted from paying the tuition fees but still had to find money for my study and research. The UAF turned down my application for funding. I was already older than the UAF's age limit and besides I wanted to follow an English study programme." Through Reverend Wagenaar, chaplain for foreign students, Tezera applied and received funds from the Ecumenical Committee for emergency aid to students from Africa, Latin America and Asia. Although he had followed a Dutch language course he had not mastered the language sufficiently to be able to study at an academic level.
Tezera holds a degree in chemistry from the university in Addis Ababa. He worked in a food research institute, doing research on locally produced oils and fats for nutrition purposes. He went to Sudan to study and work at Gezira University in 1990 on a temporary basis. At that time, the political situation in Ethiopia became critical. Over 100,000 Ethiopian refugees poured into the refugee camps in Sudan. Tezera explains that he knew most of the opposition leaders who came to Sudan. The Ethiopian government accused him of subversive activities. Members of the opposition in exile started to recruit people in the refugee camps to take up arms against the government. I disagreed with these developments, since I felt that violence would not be the proper way to solve the political and ethnic tensions. But by then, I was no longer able to return to Ethiopia." Travelling on a friend's Sudanese passport he came in the Netherlands via Egypt, in December 1991.
In Amsterdam Tezera saw a poster announcing an Ethiopian celebration: I went there, hoping to meet people, who could help me. A fellow countryman lived in Rotterdam and so I registered as an asylum seeker with the foreign police there." Tezera was placed in a centre for asylum seekers in the northern province of Drenthe. He attended Dutch language courses at Groningen University, and there he made inquiries regarding the possibilities for pursuing postgraduate education. One of the professors suggested he try either Utrecht or Wageningen. In the area of food and nutrition, WAU's biotechnology programme appeared to be the best choice. I started my study at WAU in September 1993." Seven months later Tezera acquired the C-status.
Looking back at all the procedures an asylum seeker has to go through, Tezera feels that luck played a role, but he stresses that an enterprising spirit is of great help in this respect. He concludes: Most people were very helpful and encouraging, but I had to explore and find all the information I was looking for myself."