Lubbers: integrity of resettlement must be maintained
GENEVA - U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers assured the international community Friday that UNHCR will do everything it can to ensure the integrity of its refugee resettlement procedures.
Mr. Lubbers gave the assurances following media reports this week about an ongoing United Nations investigation sought last year by UNHCR to look into allegations of corruption and bribery in the refugee status-determination and resettlement processes in the agency's Nairobi, Kenya, office.
"If these allegations are true, it would constitute an appalling failure in our responsibility to help the most vulnerable people - refugees," said Mr. Lubbers, who assumed the High Commissioner post on January 1. "We would obviously want to see those responsible punished to the full extent of the law.
"We take these allegations very seriously - so seriously that UNHCR asked the U.N.'s top investigative body in New York last year to carry out an investigation that is continuing today," he added, echoing earlier concerns by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "And the current investigation follows an earlier probe, also sought by UNHCR, that was inconclusive. It's clear that we want to get to the bottom of this."
Along with repatriation to their home country or integration in the country of first asylum, resettlement to third countries is one of three main solutions for refugees.
"I assure resettlement countries that UNHCR will make every effort to vigorously uphold the integrity of this key solution for refugees who might otherwise have no hope," Mr. Lubbers said. "Resettlement has provided a new start for millions of people over the decades and we must do everything we can to see that it will be available in the future as well."
In an era of mass migration, human trafficking and global organised crime, keeping channels open for legitimate asylum-seekers and refugees is becoming increasingly difficult. In such an environment, the refugee status-determination and resettlement processes can be especially vulnerable to corruption and abuse. Desperate people can easily be persuaded that money will advance their case.
Mr. Lubbers said continual efforts are thus required to ensure the integrity and effectiveness of the resettlement process. For example, UNHCR's Geneva-based Resettlement Section in two weeks will begin a previously planned 10-week regional oversight mission to review internal resettlement procedures and identify best practices in UNHCR offices in five African countries - Ghana, Gambia, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia. The exercise had been planned since the beginning of the year. Among other things, it will result in guidelines on uniform regional resettlement procedures as well as an effective system of checks to prevent abuse.
Specific measures have already been taken in Nairobi, including:
- Barring since last year the submission to embassies of any resettlement cases by individual staff members.
- Establishment of a more stringent system of checking resettlement cases and much tighter supervision of individuals involved.
- Closer coordination with resettlement officers from various embassies and high commissions in Nairobi.
- Media announcements informing people that the services of UNHCR were free of charge.