The first chapter of Etudes Sans Frontières that started the international movement was founded as a non profit organization in 2003 in Paris by students and members of the French civil society. It emerged as the second Chechen war was raging in the Caucasus and students from the Grozny University lost numerous professors to the war and bombs destroyed part of their university building and library.
A handful of French students with the help of many volunteers troubled by the terrible situation these students had to endure to acquire an education started the movement by welcoming to Paris a first cohort of 9 students in 2003 – 21 Chechen students were offered bursaries over a period of six years afterwards – who completed studies in such diverse disciplines as journalism, sociology, psychology, political science, architecture, administration, fashion, languages, etc.
The French chapter also helped Rwandan orphans to resume their studies in Rwanda after the genocide of 1994 and the following years of chaos. The impetus gained in the community by the implication of these young students prompted the local authorities to install electricity in the village, which radically changed the life of the people.
The movement started by Etudes Sans Frontières in France rapidly picked up momentum when renowned international public figures such as Bronislaw Geremek, André Glucksman, Elena Bonner, Youri Afanassief, Pascal Bruckner, Jack Lang, Pierre Hassner, Pierre Lellouche, Josep Ramoneda, Jacques Rupnik, Walter Veltroni and many others helped secure funds to offer grants to Chechen students. The president of this prestigious Honours Committee was the no less respected dissident playwright and first president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, now deceased (2011).
Chapters developed in Europe and North America. The international success obtained by the French founding chapter rapidly branched out in Europe and North America with chapters opening up in Belgium (2005), Québec, Canada (July 2006), Germany (October 2006), Italy (December 2006), Spain (April 2007), Norway (2007).
Since most European chapters were initiated by very active and motivated students, some have been short-lived when these have left the university after graduation to settle in life. Some of these chapters have become «dormant chapters» which can be revived anytime by new teams, with new ideas and projects.