“We need help”: African students who fled Ukraine struggle to restart life in Europe

By Neha Gohil Correspondent

We spoke to three students from African countries who fled the war in Ukraine about their struggle to continue their education

We need help. Everywhere we are going they are saying ‘go back home’

These are the words of Nanfack Momo Francklin, a 26-year-old student from Cameroon who fled the war in Ukraine. 
He was studying engineering in Ukraine before his studies were cut short and he fled to nearby countries in Europe. 
He is one of hundreds of African students who fled Ukraine struggling to restart their lives in Europe.
Three students we spoke to said they are only allowed to legally stay in Europe for a short period of time - some for only six months - before they have to return to their homes in Africa.  
They told us they are struggling to secure a place at university to continue their studies and believe they are not being treated the same as the Ukrainians who also fled the war. 

Credit: 📸: Global Black Coalition

Camille Brondeau, 28, engineering student from Cameroon

“We don’t really know where to go. It’s really stressful, honestly, so we have become withdrawn," he said.
Camille spoke to me over Zoom - with the help of a French interpreter - about his life in France since fleeing the war, including his struggle to get a place at university.
He said: “We started looking for schools but wherever we went, they would make us understand ‘which country do you come from?’
“When we said the country… we said: ‘Our country is Cameroon’ and all that, they said: ‘No, in your country there is no war, you need to return.’
“There are at least four establishments who said: ‘You need to return to your country.’”
Camille said the challenge in finding a place at university paired with his limited legal stay in France has left him feeling “withdrawn.”
“Everyday I ask myself why, why this war has happened?” he said.

Nora, 23, medical student from Morocco

Nanfack Momo Francklin, 26, engineering student from Cameroon

Nanfack Momo fled to France after leaving Ukraine.
He stayed in France for one month before he was told he did not have legal protection in the country.
He said: “We got one month and when it finished, we tried to renew it for [a] second time.. [they] said: ‘No it's not possible for you because there is no war in your country, so you need to go back.’ 
“We were so shocked. We don’t understand why [they] just help Ukrainian people and not help people from third-country.”
Many countries in Europe have a similar approach to international students who fled Ukraine - if students have a ‘safe country’ to return to, they should do so before their legal stay has ended. 
After Nanfack Momo was denied an extension to his legal stay in France, he travelled to the Netherlands where he was granted temporary legal protection.
“For us we don’t want to go back to Cameroon because we [left] Cameroon to go to Ukraine to have a better education,” he said.  
“Then we were not able to continue due to the war. Then we are here…we just want to continue our studies, that’s what we are asking now.”

What’s the background?

There were a lot of reports about the African students who fled Ukraine earlier this year. 
An estimated 80,000 international students were studying at Ukrainian universities before the war started. 
When Russia invaded, many of them joined the thousands of people leaving the country. 
But a lot of  international students - like Camille and Nora -  reported facing racism and discrimination when trying to leave the country. 
We previously reported on this through Alexander’s story  - a Nigerian student who fled Ukraine.  

Credit: 📸: AP/ @nzekiev / Twitter

And now there are thought to be around 10,000 African students who fled Ukraine living across Europe.
The Global Black Coalition is an organisation helping hundreds of international students who fled Ukraine, including more than 300 struggling to continue their education and more than 120 threatened with deportation. 
You can find out more about the organisation here. 
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