Donors call for action on Uganda refugee scandal

Saturday December 15 2018

Hundred of South Sudanese refugees arrive at Elegu Reception Centre in Amuru District in July last year

Hundred of South Sudanese refugees arrive at Elegu Reception Centre in Amuru District in July last year. A UN audit released last month unearthed shocking fraud in operations of its refugee agency in Uganda. PHOTO | JULUIS OCUNGI | NMG 

By JULIUS BARIGABA
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As a refugee scandal continues to rock the Uganda government, key donors are demanding that Kampala implement the recommendations made by an audit report.

The audit report released last month unearthed ghost refugees and alleged that there was corruption, misconduct and sexual abuse in their management.

The donors now want the government to complete investigations and hold those responsible accountable.

“International donors look at the findings of the recent audit, by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services, of UNHCR Uganda’s operations from July 2016 through December 2017 with serious concern,” said a December 14 statement from donor countries and blocs with diplomatic missions in Uganda.

The statement was issued by heads of mission of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, the European Union, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, the UK and the US.

They hailed the government of Uganda and the UNHCR for their sustained efforts over many years to provide lifesaving support and assistance to hundreds of thousands of people who had sought refuge in the country.

But the donors said that, during 2016 and 2017, the humanitarian response to refugees in Uganda faced mismanagement, corruption and abuse.

“This has affected the work and the confidence in the systems delivering it. The problems were to some extent fuelled by a lack of necessary controls,” the donors noted.

In order to address this and to re-establish an efficient and trustworthy humanitarian response, the Uganda government, donors and UN agencies put in place new mechanisms and controls to reduce the risks of fraud and malfeasance.

The release of the preliminary results of the audit last month left the government and the UNHCR struggling to explain a 24 per cent drop in the number of refugees from the earlier indicated 1.44 million, a difference of 350,000 people.

The verification and its results now pave the way for more focused and targeted assistance, based on reliable data.

Registration of refugees will remain the responsibility of the government.

A new biometric registration system is being deployed to register arrivals and to update refugee population changes and will be fully in place by the end of the month.

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