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Report from UNHCR's Inspector-General - ExCom


Report from UNHCR's Inspector-General - ExCom

Complaints and allegations against UNHCR are up this year, but the Inspector-General sees this as evidence that there is a functioning structure in place to receive such complaints, rather than an increase in unethical behaviour.
3 October 2001
UNHCR is working to improve sanitation conditions for Togolese refugees in Benin's Come camp.

GENEVA, 3 Oct. (UNHCR) - UNHCR this year has witnessed an increase in the number of complaints and allegations reported to the agency's Office of the Inspector-General.

Discussing the agency's inspection activities at UNHCR's annual Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday, Inspector-General Maureen Connelly said that since January 1, UNHCR had received 47 complaints and allegations, compared to 34 complaints received over an 18-month period between 1999-2000.

"While there is an increase in investigations since January 2001, this does not necessarily indicate an increase in unethical behaviour, but rather that there is a functioning, centralised structure in place to receive complaints and allegations," Connelly said. She cautioned that in considering these statistics, it was useful to remember that UNHCR has more than 5,000 staff with offices in some 120 countries.

According to Connelly, the Inspector-General's Office had acted on 29 of the complaints received from UNHCR staff, NGOs and other partners this year. Twelve of the 47 complaints this year concern three countries. Two were still being looked into, while four had been dismissed for lack of sufficient information to enable follow-up.

The Inspector-General said her office was focusing its efforts on a review of its investigation strategy. She said current priorities included the development of a handbook and the establishment of a hotline and database for recording of complaints and allegations. "An increase in complaints received since January 2001 and the lessons learned from the Kenya investigation have resulted in the organisation's resolve to take a closer look at what it has in place," she said . "The Inspector-General's Office will also be looking to donor governments for expert assistance to set up both fraud awareness training as well as fraud risk assessment capacity within the organisation. "

Last year, as a result of allegations of corruption relating mainly to refugee resettlement in UNHCR's office in Nairobi, Kenya, the UNHCR Inspector-General requested the UN Office of Internal Oversight (OIOS) to carry out a full investigation. The OIOS probe, which was launched in March this year, has ended, although the results have not yet been made public.

During the investigations, several UNHCR staff members as well as other individuals working closely with UNHCR, among them the US Ambassador to Kenya, received security threats. Five UNHCR staff implicated in the scandal were immediately suspended by UNHCR. Three of them are facing prosecution under Kenyan Law. In addition, 18 legal staff employed by a local NGO to assist UNHCR's protection work were also suspended and their contracts subsequently not renewed.

"The events in Kenya highlighted the extent of the problems we can face when criminal activities occur," said Connelly.

UNHCR's representative in Kenya, George Okoth-Obbo, briefed participants at the meeting on the steps UNHCR has taken to respond to the situation in Kenya. He said implementation of the two-year "Kenya Reform Plan" will cost nearly $3 million - $1.5 million for urgent measures being instituted this year and a further $1.4 million for 2002.

For the time being, the processing of new refugee cases for resettlement has been suspended in Nairobi. Okoth-Obbo said applications for refugees facing serious risks are, however, being submitted to resettlement countries under very tight procedures.

He said the Nairobi office was receiving an average of 200 asylum-seekers every day.