Is the Education of Local Children Influenced by Living near a Refugee Camp? Evidence from Host Communities in Rwanda

Özge Bilgili, Craig Loschmann, Sonja Fransen, and Melissa Siegel

International Migration, Volume 57, Issue 4 (2019), Pages 291-309


This paper examines the effects of the presence of Congolese refugees in Rwanda on access to schools and educational outcomes for host community children. The majority of the nearly 75,000 Congolese refugees in Rwanda (UNHCR, 2017) have been in protracted displacement since the mid-1990s. The Rwandan government’s policy is to integrate refugees into local schools (where possible) and strengthen facilities by building classrooms, and providing additional teachers and materials.

The analysis draws on household survey data, community surveys and focus group discussions covering host communities in the vicinity of the three largest refugee camps in Rwanda: Gihembe, Kigeme and Kiziba. The analysis relies on a comparison between host community members residing closer to (less than 10 km) and further away from (greater than 20 km) the camps.

Main findings:

  • Children living within 10 km of a refugee camp are significantly more likely to attend school, compared with children living further away. 71 percent of all children 18 years or younger residing within 10 km of a camp regularly attend school, compared to 61 percent of the children living further than 20 km from a camp.
  • Children living within 10 km of a refugee camp that has more integration of refugee students in surrounding local schools (Gihembe and Kigeme) are significantly more likely to benefit from school feeding programs, compared to children living further away. Only about four percent of the children within communities outside 20 km of the nearest refugee camp are provided food assistance at school compared to 23 percent of the children located within 10 km of a camp.
  • Children within 10 km of a refugee camp have better educational outcomes—on average they have completed more years of schooling and are more likely to have completed primary school—however other factors may explain these outcomes, e.g. increased investments in public education and/or overall economic development in the country.
  • Locals residing closer to the camps have mostly positive views on the effects of refugees on local education. Respondents particularly emphasized government’s investments in education in areas surrounding the camp.

The authors conclude that the presence of Congolese refugees has an overall positive impact on the education of children living in areas surrounding the refugee camps. These positive effects are attributed to the integrated approach to education pursued by the Rwandan government coupled with increased national spending on education.