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UN refugee agency probing corruption in Uganda, Kenya

The UN refugee agency said on Thursday it was probing new allegations of fraud in its resettlement programme in Kenya and Uganda after a report in German magazine Stern alleging graft.

"We can confirm that we have received allegations related to resettlement fraud in Uganda and Kenya," UNHCR spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly told AFP, without elaborating.

Stern reported that an illegal "market" had grown up around the resettlement programme in the Ugandan capital Kampala in which intermediaries acted between local UNHCR officials and refugees willing to pay to be resettled.

Under the programme, vulnerable refugees are given a home in third countries. The leading host countries for resettled refugees last year were the United States, Canada and Britain, according to UN data.

The Stern report said refugees were paying about $2 500 each to get resettled, with the corruption also including fake medical certificates to ease entry.

UNHCR has previously investigated five graft cases involving its personnel in Kenya in 2016-17, which it said had been passed on to national authorities.

"We strongly condemn any attempt to undermine the integrity of our resettlement programme or to exploit vulnerable refugees," Pouilly said.

The UN agency considered 1.4 million people to have resettlement needs in 2019 alone, but only around 55 000 people departed for resettlement countries last year.

The limited number of places "is a factor that weighs heavily in favour of those wishing to exploit the desperation of refugees," Pouilly said.

Since the 2016-17 cases in Kenya, UNHCR said it had raised awareness among refugees that all its services were free. It also strengthened its investigative powers.

The agency reported a 60 percent rise in the number of disciplinary actions it had taken between 2017 and 2018, and said 10 staff members were dismissed for corruption.

This article was originally published on News24.


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