UNHCR statement regarding unverified reports being circulated by the media in Uganda

Report
from UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Published on 20 Feb 2018 View Original

The important work of supporting refugees and the communities that host them has the potential to be seriously compromised

Kampala, 20 February 2018 -- UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is taking very seriously recent developments in Uganda and wishes to register its concern that the important work of supporting refugees and the communities that host them has the potential to be seriously compromised.

Unverified reports in various media have threatened to tarnish the reputation of Uganda, which is currently Africa’s largest refugee hosting state, and has one of the most progressive policies worldwide for people fleeing conflict and persecution.

The UN, including UNHCR, made reports to the Government through the Resident Coordinator of alleged corruption and grave misconduct by Government refugee managers. The allegations were reported to the Prime Minister, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda. The Prime Minister provided strong assurances that the matter would be investigated, which UNHCR welcomed in a press release dated 9 February.

From the outset, we wish to address the incorrect media reports and narratives which are depicting the malaise as one by UN and UNHCR staff and, in particular, the UNHCR Representative, Mr. Bornwell Kantande.

Mr Kantande has throughout his assignment in Uganda enjoyed and continues to enjoy the trust and confidence of the leadership of the organization including the head of the organization himself, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Filippo Grandi. Mr. Kantande has carried out two and a half years of relentless work in a particularly challenging environment characterized by multiple refugee influxes into the country. Any reassignment would take place on exactly these considerations and in keeping with responsibilities which match Mr Kantande’s experience and the stellar work he has done not only in Uganda but throughout his UNHCR career.

The refugee programme in Uganda is of critical importance, given the scale of multiple emergencies unfolding in different border areas, and the exemplary role played by this country in welcoming 1.4 million people seeking international protection on its territory.

UNHCR wishes to state that fraud, corruption, sexual exploitation and abuse, and sexual harassment are considered misconduct. UNHCR’s priority is to protect refugees and to ensure that the resources provided by governments and donors are responsibly managed, with full accountability.

Dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those involved in refugee response causes great harm to the people we care for and erodes public confidence as well as donor trust. It also does serious disservice to Uganda’s exemplary refugee policies.

We wish to clarify that any allegations concerning other UN agencies or implementing partners are, as matter of course, referred to the respective organizations for internal investigation, while those concerning government staff or entities are referred to the competent national authorities.

UNHCR is not in a position to comment on the involvement or non-involvement of any Government official in the allegations of corruption. UNHCR has rather called upon the Government to undertake investigations into those allegations which would, among other things, establish who was involved.

UNHCR has undertaken to cooperate fully with the Government authorities in undertaking those investigations and is doing so.

Meanwhile, in accordance with standard practice, UNHCR’s independent Inspector General’s Office is pursuing internal investigations on some serious allegations received at the end of 2017.

We wish to reiterate that at UNHCR, we have zero-tolerance for fraud and corruption, misconduct, and sexual abuse and exploitation. Every allegation is thoroughly assessed and, if substantiated, leads to sanctions against the concerned staff member, including summary dismissal.

We wish to reiterate furthermore UNHCR’s commitment to carry out in full its own relevant oversight, due diligence and accountability measures. Information on any UNHCR or partner workers who may be found to have committed misconduct will be transparently communicated.

In order to enhance effective oversight, as well as maintain public trust and donor confidence, UNHCR is supporting the government to take immediate steps to address the situation.

Together with the government, UNHCR is also reviewing and strengthening procedures and monitoring across all refugee operations to curtail opportunities for corruption and exploitation of refugees living in Uganda and reinforce measures to ensure that vulnerable refugees, particularly women and girls, are well protected.

The government of Uganda has the responsibility to register all refugees arriving in the country. To assist in this process, UNHCR is urgently making available its globally tried and tested tools and systems to verify the refugee population.

On 1st March, together with our partners in government and NGOs, we will launch a verification exercise targeting all refugees in Uganda. The biometric verification will strengthen the integrity of the data underpinning the refugee operation, and will allay any concerns that refugee numbers are inflated.

UNHCR has already deployed staff who will work with experienced Government and NGO teams to carry out the exercise, which is scheduled to be completed by September 2018.

UNHCR commends the Government and people of Uganda, who have offered remarkable hospitality and generosity in sharing their land and resources for decades. Over a million refugees entered Uganda in the last year and a half. Uganda currently hosts refugees from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Somali and other countries.

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For more information, please contact:
Teresa Ongaro, Senior Regional Spokesperson, UNHCR, Email: ongaro@unhcr.org | Tel: +256 776071222 OR
Duniya Aslam Khan, Spokesperson, UNHCR Uganda, Email: khand@unhcr.org | Tel: +256 772701101 OR
Yonna Tukundane, Senior Public Information Assistant, Email: tukundan@unhcr.org | Tel: +256 775 827 490