The Impact of Refugee Experiences on Education: Evidence from Burundi

Sonja Fransen, Carlos Vargas-Silva, and Melissa Siegel

IZA Journal of Development and Migration, Volume 8, Issue 6 (2018)


The authors use survey data from Burundi, which experienced large-scale conflict-induced emigration and substantial post-war refugee return, to explore differences in educational outcomes between returned refugees and individuals who never left the country during the 1993-2005 civil war (including those who were never displaced and those who were displaced internally). The survey was conducted 15 years after the signing of the peace agreement in Burundi and after the return of most former refugees to the country, which enables a long-term perspective on the impacts of forced displacement on educational outcomes. Given the low levels of schooling in Burundi, the authors focus on primary completion rates. Controlling for pre-war characteristics and cohort effects, the authors find that former refugees who returned to Burundi had better educational outcomes than individuals who never left the country. Specifically:

  • Returned refugees are 16 to 28 percentage points more likely to have finished primary school than their peers who never left the country. However, the average primary school completion rate for returned refugees was still low (37 percent).
  • An additional year spent as a refugee while of schooling age is associated with a 4 to 6 percentage point increase in the likelihood of finishing primary school.
  • There is suggestive evidence that returnees were also better off than their hosts in Tanzania, probably because of the specific schools that they had access to by virtue of being refugees.

Children who were of schooling age during the conflict and who were displaced to neighboring countries (particularly those displaced to camps in Tanzania) had better access to education facilities than those who stayed in Burundi. Children who stayed in Burundi were likely affected by the negative impacts of conflict on schooling (e.g. destruction of schools, killing and exodus of teachers, child soldiering, household income shocks, higher levels insecurity, and decreases in state investments in education). Children who stay behind when conflict erupts suffer serious gaps in their education, and the authors advocate educational support programs that allow these children to catch-up with those who were not as affected by conflict.

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