A United Nations internal investigation has found evidence that staff members of the UN refugee agency illegally took bribes as part of a criminal conspiracy to bilk asylum-seekers in Kenya, according to a report released today.
The investigation by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) concerned allegations that refugees in and around Nairobi were asked to pay bribes to obtain registration and resettlement documents from the UNHCR Branch Office in the Kenyan capital. The OIOS report cites “evidence of a criminal enterprise involving nationals of several countries which was operating in Kenya to acquire millions of dollars in profit by taking advantage of refugees.”
To date, Kenyan authorities have arrested nine individuals, including three UNHCR staff members, two members of an affiliated non-governmental organization (NGO) and four other operatives. Criminal charges now pending in Kenya against the nine include conspiracy to threaten to kill the American Ambassador and the UNHCR Representative.
High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers accepted the report’s findings, saying he and his colleagues were “shamed and outraged,” and adding, “There is no excuse, no defence for such contemptible behaviour.”
The report's 12 recommendations urge UNHCR to change its management structure in Kenya, provide targeted information on refugee rights, establish a complaints procedure, conduct random spot checks of refugee interviews and interpreter services, establish a systematic register of claims, and examine the agency’s other operations to prevent similar criminal activity.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, UN Inspector General Dileep Nair warned that the circumstances contributing to the crimes must be considered. “We feel that this problem can still arise in areas where such pre-conditions exist, namely, when the demand for resettlement exceeds the supply of willingness of countries to resettle them,” he said.
The Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, Mary Ann Wyrsch, said the agency was aware of its responsibility to follow up on the report’s recommendations. “It deeply pains us, at the UNHCR, that the findings in the report show some inadequacies on our part; however, we accept the accountability for them and because the UN demands it, the UNHCR demands it, and the world's millions of refugees demand that we have this standard of accountability.”