NAIROBI, 15 March (IRIN) - The UN
refugee agency in Tanzania has denied allegations of corruption and intimidation
by officials dealing with refugees, saying that many of the claims
are slight and give little to investigate, while others are untrue.
Earlier this week, reports of alleged corruption and intimidation within the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Tanzania emerged in the local press. Some of the allegations were supported by the national section of the human rights group Amnesty International, but have been repeatedly denied by the refugee agency.
The Guardian, a Tanzanian daily newspaper, published an article citing claims that corrupt officials were demanding bribes from refugees and intimidating others who travelled to the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, in search of medical treatment.
"We have very little to go after, so we have to challenge anybody out there to simply give us a little bit more of a lead which we could follow up on," Ivana Unluova, External Relations Officer at UNHCR in Dar es Salaam, told IRIN. "As the situation stands now, we believe that the allegations are not substantiated," she added.
The Guardian report carried allegations made by a refugee that he had witnessed three fellow Kenyan refugees bribing UNHCR officials so that they could be sent to Mkugwa refugee camp in Kigoma, northwestern Tanzania.
"I fail to understand why UNHCR officials could be bribed. I witnessed everything, but due [to the fact that] I didn't have money, I couldn't be accepted," the refugee claimed in a letter written to UNHCR. Unluova refuted this particular claim entirely. "It has been followed up on and there is absolutely no substance to it," she told IRIN.
The Guardian also reported that some refugees were reputed to have contacted local and international human rights organisations about forceful demands for sexual favours from female refugees by corrupt UNHCR Tanzania officials. However, the refugee agency said it had received no such complaints. "We have been given absolutely no information so we have nothing to follow up on," said Unluova. "Besides, we believe that we have a fairly good system for tracking these things in the camps."
Commenting on the broad allegations of corruption at UNHCR Tanzania, she said there was insufficient information to support any of the claims. The procedure for responding to complaints involved checking all the records on the cases mentioned and, if there was sufficient evidence, carrying out further investigations, she added.
However, Baya Mwankemwa, the Section Director of Amnesty International in Tanzania, believes there are fundamental problems affecting issues ranging from treatment of refugees and poor living conditions in the refugee camps to allegations of corruption, and the manner in which these are dealt with. "Usually they [UNHCR] don't reply to the allegations that I pass on," she told IRIN. "When I try to make appointments between the refugees and the UNHCR, they usually don't respond."
Mwankemwa also supported the allegations of refugee intimidation that were made in the Guardian. "I think that the refugees are afraid to go to the UNHCR offices," she said. "They are intimidated by the junior protection officers."
Among the complaints made by refugees is their treatment by, and supposed corruption within the Tanzania Family Planning Association, which operates the accommodation facilities for the UN refugee agency's urban case-loads in Dar es Salaam.
Walter Mbunda, Executive Director of UMATI, has refuted such criticism. "To the best of my knowledge, there hasn't been staff behaviour that could be classed as malpractice," he told IRIN on Friday. "I haven't received any such complaints. If anything, we have had compliments."
On claims of corruption within the organisation, Mbunda said: "I have never heard of those allegations. It has not happened. We try our level best to be competent and truthful to the UNHCR principles in looking after refugees."
UNHCR responded to claims of intimidation at the Dar es Salaam office by poniting to the numbers of refugees that go there for assistance.
"We have our community services department here in the offices, plus our protection unit, and both of these units are fairly busy addressing individual queries and cases from the refugees," Unluova said.
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