UN refugee agency says donors withhold funds until Uganda numbers checked

by Reuters
Tuesday, 20 February 2018 17:21 GMT

Congolese family, who migrated from Democratic Republic of Congo by fleeing on a boat across Lake Albert, waits to be registered by United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ntoroko, Uganda February 17, 2018. REUTERS/James Akena

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Uganda said it was widening a probe to see whether staff from U.N. agencies had connived with corrupt state employees to inflate refugee figures to steal aid

KAMPALA, Feb 20 (Reuters) - The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday its donors would withhold funding for Ugandan operations until refugee numbers were verified, after accusations that officials inflated the figures to steal aid.

Multiple investigations are under way by the Ugandan government, the United Nations and the European Union into accusations that aid has been stolen. Investigators are looking into whether food and other relief items intended for refugees were sold off, bribes paid and refugee girls trafficked.

Last week the Ugandan government, already investigating possible culpability by its own officials, said it was widening the probe to see whether staff from U.N. agencies UNHCR and the World Food Programme had connived with corrupt state employees.

Teresa Ongalo, a UNHCR spokeswoman, told a news conference in the Ugandan capital Kampala donors had raised questions about the number of refugees in Uganda.

"There's concern that the numbers are not accurate," she said. "What we have received from donors is an indication that until we're able to verify the numbers they will withhold funding."

UNHCR and the Ugandan government have embarked on verification of refugee numbers using the U.N. agency's biometric system.

Scarce funds momentarily forced food ration cuts for refugees in Uganda last year, and any cut-off of aid is likely to exacerbate suffering in the camps.

The refugee influx into Uganda has ballooned in recent years on the back of instability in the Great Lakes Region.

An estimated 1.4 million refugees are in the country, including more than a million from South Sudan where a four-year-old civil has left tens of thousands dead and uprooted an estimated quarter of a population of 12 million.

Other refugees in Uganda come mainly from Burundi and the lawless eastern region of Democratic Republic of Congo.

In recent weeks the rate of daily arrivals from eastern Congo has spiked on the back of spreading inter-communal and ethnic violence. On Tuesday UNHCR said it had planned for 60,000 new Congolese refugee arrivals in Uganda in 2018 but that the number was already above 40,000.

(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by George Obulutsa and Peter Graff)

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