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Ukraine war: What next for the African students who fled?

BY: bbc

Desmond Chinaza Muokwudo, a 30-year-old Nigerian student who has recently fled Ukraine, spent 11 years saving up for an education in Europe.

Once a pipeline welder from Anambra state, he dreamt of studying international relations - but he struggled with unemployment amid a recession in 2016. It was only after his parents decided to sell their small plot of land that he managed to raise enough funds to pursue his dream.

He finally enrolled last year at university, and had only spent three months in Ukraine when Russia launched its full-scale invasion.

"My parents have nothing left, they can't support me," he explained over the phone from his temporary accommodation in Berlin, Germany, sounding defeated.

"My government just tells me to come back home, but there's nothing waiting for me in Nigeria."

Mr Muokwudo is one of the estimated 16,000 African students who were living in Ukraine and are now scrambling to continue their studies.

Hundreds have returned home on repatriation flights, though exact numbers are unclear, but thousands like Mr Muokwudo are likely to still be in Europe.

"I have sacrificed too much to get here. I have to stay in Europe, and I have to get an education," Mr Muokwudo said.

Universities across the world have extended a helping hand to students fleeing Ukraine, in the form of guaranteed places, discounted tuition fees and relaxed visa requirements.

African officials have also increased diplomatic efforts to get assurances for their students, with foreign ministers meeting with their European counterparts to broker deals.

Up to 250 university places are being offered in Hungary to stranded medical students, according to Ghanaian officials - and Ghana's government reportedly has a deal with Grenada for 200 to be enrolled at the St George's University of Medicine.

Semmelweis University in Hungary, which is allowing medical students to continue their studies for free until the war is over, says it has received more than 2,000 applications in just a few weeks, mainly from Africans.

However, many students say that these offers are granted on a case-by-case basis and wrapped up in red tape. They largely depend on what degree students are undertaking, how many years they have already completed and how much they can still afford to pay.

Mr Muokwudo complained that some universities would not take non-Ukrainians.

"'We only take Ukrainian citizens', that's what I've been told," he said, referring to a policy at Tallinn University in Estonia.

The university confirmed that only Ukrainians could apply outside the usual admission process but said that international students were still welcome to apply the regular way.