United Nations wastes millions on ‘ghost’ refugees

A car park at the prime minister’s office in Uganda was built using money meant for refugees, a UN internal inquiry has found.

The money may have been diverted from its proper purpose because people who have fled South Sudan for neighbouring Uganda could have been over-counted.

Such a practice could have been used to secure extra funding, but it is feared that officials simply pocketed the difference.

A report from the UN’s internal watchdog said about £8.6m was being spent on a recount of South Sudanese people who have entered Uganda, in a search for potentially hundreds of thousands of “ghost refugees”.

South Sudanese refugees pushing their belongings after crossing into Uganda
South Sudanese refugees pushing their belongings after crossing into Uganda

The UN also found inflated bills, fraud and non-compliance with rules.

Uganda’s office of the prime minister paid £222,000 in allowances annually to dozens of its staff but “was unable to provide… documentation to substantiate that these civil servants were working on UNHCR projects”, the report said.

In another finding, it emerged that the UN’s refugee agency gave £6.2m to a partner to build more than 745 miles (1,200km) of roads. But the company “did not have experience in road construction”.

“We have acknowledged serious shortcomings and have already started taking action,” said UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch.

“(The) majority of the actions resulting from these reviews have been implemented even before the final audit report was released.”

More than a million South Sudanese fled to Uganda after fighting broke out in July 2016.

That in turn led to the UN and other agencies scrambling to provide food and shelter.

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