Government, UN probe finds inflated refugee figures

Verification. World Food Programme officials register refugees using a biometric verification system at Imvepi Refugee Settlement Camp in Arua District on Friday. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA

What you need to know:

  • Reason. The Office of the Prime Minister attributes the discrepancies to mass influx of refugees and their complex movements in the country.
  • "There are people at the borders who have families in two border countries for example in Amudat and Pokot. These can pose as Ugandans at a certain time and pose as citizens of a neighbouring country depending on the benefits arising from the situation. Such incidents are also observed during elections when these people cast votes in two countries,” minutes from an OPM June 7 meeting

Kampala. Preliminary findings of the ongoing investigation into the alleged inflation of refugee numbers have revealed significant disparities, but the Prime Minister’s office insists there are justified explanations for the mismatch.
In February, Daily Monitor broke the story of the discrepancies in refugee numbers involving allegations of inflated figures, trafficking of women and children and fraud.

Consequently, government, the UN and specific donors commenced investigations, including a biometric verification of refugees to “strengthen the integrity of the data underpinning the refugee operation” and “allay any concerns that refugee numbers are inflated”.
The verification was part of the conditions donors gave to government and UN agencies lest they withdraw funding. End of September was the set deadline.

Senior government officials, including former commissioner for refugees Apollo Kazungu were asked to step aside to pave way for investigations while the then United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Uganda, Mr Bornwell Kantande, has since been transferred.
Preliminary findings of the investigation show that in some settlement camps, refugee numbers were inflated by up to 50 per cent.

However, government and the UNHCR are insisting that the discrepancies do not appear deliberate but were occasioned by circumstances imposed by the mass influx and complex movements of refugees in the country. In Imvepi Refugee Settlement in West Nile for example, 53,856 refugees were verified using the Biometric Information Management System (BIMS) against 127,325 which had been registered under the government’s Refugee Information Management System (RIMS), representing a 58 per cent drop, according to figures by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

During a June 7 “coordination meeting” chaired by the Prime Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, whose minutes this newspaper has seen, OPM officials resolved to pursue the culprits in the scam and discuss how to manage the information flow to avoid potential backfire about the scandal.
“OPM should initiate a report that will give a comprehensive brief about those issues and solutions as so far taken to solve the problem.

The brief should be pre-emptive of the criticism that may be likely to come from other agencies concerning these discrepancies,” the minutes read in part.
“There should be explanation for the food purported to have been distributed to the ghost refugees.”
Among other actions the OPM meeting resolved was that the “investigating team should zealously proceed with the exercise and even zero on the officers responsible for the previous figures”.

The meeting also resolved to come up with explanations for the inflated refugee numbers and tasked the line ministers to explain the same in their report to the public.
Dr Rugunda is quoted in the June 7 meeting expressing concern that the revelations, if unexplained, will show “weaknesses on the part of government if Ugandans could impersonate as refugees in such numbers without being recognised”.