MACIMIDE Co-Director Melissa Siegel on ‘The Impact of Refugee Experiences on Education: Evidence from Burundi’

This synopsis was first published in the newsletter of Growth and Labour Markets in Low Income Countries Programme.

We would like to introduce you with some of the results of the paper: “The Impact of Refugee Experiences on Education: Evidence from Burundi”. The paper was written Sonja Fransen (University of Amsterdam), Melissa Siegel (Maastricht University) and Carlos Vargas-Silva (University of Oxford).

Burundi is a small country in the African Great Lakes region that consistently ranks as one of the five poorest of the world. The country’s population is composed mainly by two ethnic groups (Hutus and Tutsis), which have a historical tension with each other. But it was in 1993 that the biggest conflict in Burundi’s history started as a consequence of this ethnical rivalry. In this year, Melchior Ndadadye became the first democratically-elected Hutu president of the country. Few months later he was assassinated by Tutsi soldiers. This assassination led to a long civil war. While most of the previous conflicts were limited to certain provinces, the 1990s war was a countrywide conflict in which just two provinces were not seriously affected.

The war resulted in internal and international forced displacement. Around 700,000 people fled to neighboring countries, mostly to Tanzania, where they settled in refugee camps, while it is estimated that the number of internally displaced reached 800,000 in 1999 (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 1999). The education system in Burundi was seriously affected as a result of the war, as national primary enrolment rates plummeted by close to 15% during the conflict (World Bank, 2016).

Living conditions in camps in Tanzania differed across sites, but were generally better than those in Burundi during the war. Still, many refugees experienced serious hardship. Unlike the previous cohorts, such as the 1972 refugees, Burundian refugees fleeing to Tanzania from 1993 onwards were not given land for agricultural activities (Harild et al., 2015). Over time, the Tanzanian government also restricted the

movement of refugees to four kilometers from the camps and imposed limitations on the types of economic activities in which refugees could engage (Millner, 2013). Refugees could not legally work outside of camps or own farms in the camp areas. As a result, many of these refugees were fully dependent on the support of international aid for the entire duration of their stay in Tanzania (Harild et al., 2015).

Importantly for this study, primary schools in refugee camps in north-western Tanzania were funded by UNHCR, which paid for teacher salaries (Amnesty International, 2005). It is estimated that around 90% of primary school age children who arrived in Tanzania after 1993 were enrolled in school in 2000 (Jackson, 2000). Qualitative studies suggest that Burundian refugees were highly motivated to send their children to the schools in camps, particularly the Hutus who felt they had been previously discriminated in the Burundian schooling system (Skonhoft, 2010). Moreover, in the past, educated Hutus were one of the main targets of the Tutsi dominated Government and education was often seen as a liability (Ngaruko and Nkurunziza, 2005; Skonhoft, 2010; Verwimp and Van Babel, 2014).

The extent to which refugee schooling outcomes differ from those who never left the country is unknown. Given that the large majority of Burundians displaced by the 1993- 2005 conflict have returned home (Harild et al., 2015; Fransen, 2015; Fransen et al., 2016), it is now possible compare the schooling outcomes of returnees with the outcomes of their contemporaries in Burundi. That is the purpose of their paper.

They collected data across all provinces of Burundi during January to March 2015. A total of 1,500 households were interviewed. Within each sous-colline (the smallest administrative unit in the country), 15 households and one community representative were interviewed. Information was collected at the individual, household and community level. Forced displacement experiences were recorded at the individual level.

Location of the communities surveyed

Given the low levels of schooling in Burundi the paper focuses on primary education and explore differences on the impact of refugee and stayee experiences across different schooling cohorts. In particular, they look at three cohorts. First, they look at those who were above primary schooling age at the start of the war. This cohort served as a control group as its educational outcomes (i.e. primary education) should not have been affected by the conflict. Second, they look at those who were of primary schooling age during the conflict. This war

generation should be the most affected cohort. Finally, they look at those who became of schooling age after the conflict. This cohort provides insights on the impacts of early life experiences on future schooling outcomes.

Their results suggest that, controlling for individual characteristics, conflict exposure and cohort effects, returning refugees are six percentage points more likely to have finished primary school than their contemporaries who never left the country. The result is driven by those individuals who were affected by the war during their schooling years. The results are robust to inclusion of multiple controls for pre-war economic conditions. For the most part, they find no significant effect of internal displacement on schooling outcomes. These findings correspond with reports which suggest that children who were of school age during the conflict and who were displaced internationally had better access to education facilities than those who stayed in Burundi (Integrated Regional Information Network, 2002). They also provide a simple comparison of the schooling outcomes of returnees with those of residents of Kagera, a region of North- western Tanzania (i.e. region that borders Burundi), and there is some suggestive evidence that returnees are better off than their hosts in Tanzania.

Further information on this paper can be found here.
Many thanks to all involved in the project and their contributions to further shape the research agenda of the GLM|LIC programme. For further information check here.


Amnesty International (2005) Burundi: Refugee rights at risk: Human rights abuses in returns to and from Burundi. London: Amnesty International.

Fransen, Sonja. 2015. “The socio-economic sustainability of refugee return: Insights from Burundi.” Population, Space and Place, early view published at 22 September 2015. DOI: 10.1002/psp.1976.

Fransen, S., Ruiz, I. and Vargas-Silva, C. 2015 “Return Migration and Economic Outcomes in the Conflict Context.” Households in Conflict Network, Working Paper 203.

Harild, Niels, Christensen, Asger and Zetter, Roger. 2015. Sustainable Refugee Return: Triggers, Constraints, and Lessons on Addressing the Development Challenges of Forced Displacement. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Millner, James. 2013. “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Understanding the Shifting Politics of Refugee Policy in Tanzania”, New Issues in Refugee Research 255.

Ngaruko, Floribert and Janvier D. Nkurunziza. 2005. Civil war and its duration in Burundi. In Ed. Paul Collier and Nicholas Sambanis, Understanding civil war: Africa. Washington D.C.: World Bank.

Skonhoft, Cathrine Gjertsen. 2010. “’Why should I send my child to school?’: A study of Burundian Hutu refugees’ experiences of exclusion from education and how this motivates education in Tanzanian exile.” Norwegian Journal of Geography 54: 116– 121.

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (1999) Affected population in the Great Lakes region (displaced-refugees). Geneva: UNOCHA.

Verwimp, Philip and Jan Van Bavel (2014) “Schooling, violent conflict, and gender in Burundi.” World Bank Economic Review 28 (2): 384-411.

World Bank (2016) World development indicators (WDI) database: Burundi. Washington DC: World Bank.