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Africa

Uganda officials ‘made up’ 300,000 refugees and pocketed millions in UN funds, inquiry finds

  • Top official and three of his staff accused of colluding with UN aid workers to defraud government of money meant for displaced South Sudanese
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2018, 10:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2018, 4:35am

A Ugandan government investigation into alleged fraud over refugee numbers has confirmed that previous figures were exaggerated by 300,000. An official inquiry, conducted since March by the office of the prime minister and UN refugee agency UNHCR, found that Uganda hosts 1.1 million refugees and not 1.4 million.

The investigation followed allegations senior officials inflated figures and mismanaged funds meant to support the refugees.

Apollo Kazungu, commissioner for refugees in the prime minister’s office, and three of his senior staff – Walter Omondi, John Baptist Sentamu and Francis Nkwasibwe – were suspended over allegations of collusion with UNHCR and World Food Programme staff to inflate refugee numbers.

The officials allegedly created fake names in refugee settlements and defrauded millions of dollars in aid.

“There were also some cases of multiple registrations by refugees at the height of the emergency influxes of South Sudanese refugees between mid-2016 and mid-2017, when registration systems were sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer number and speed of arrivals. These cases were identified and removed from the database,” the government and UNHCR said on Monday.

New food collection procedures have now been introduced.

“These procedures mitigate the risk of fraud, ensuring that assistance is well managed and provided only to verified, eligible refugees and asylum seekers,” said a joint statement.

Thijs Van Laer from the International Refugee Rights Initiative said: “It’s good news that the verification exercise has been concluded.

“The numbers show that it was necessary, and that Uganda still hosts one of the largest numbers of refugees in the world. We hope that this can be the basis of a more honest discussion about the number of refugees in Uganda and about what should be done to ensure accountable and sufficient funding.

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“Now that there is more clarity, donors should step up their funding, to ensure that Uganda’s progressive refugee policy is fully translated into practice.

At the same time, the Ugandan government should continue to show that it is willing to improve accountability for the funding it receives. In the end, it is refugees who suffer the negative consequences of any allegations of corruption and funding cuts.”