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2.6 Fraud and misconduct

Internal UNHCR guidance on fraud and misconduct in resettlement is available here.

Identifying and treating fraud risks

The successful implementation of UNHCR’s mandate to provide international protection and solutions to displaced persons depends on the quality, integrity and robustness of processes and oversight structures at all stages of the case management cycle, including resettlement. Constant vigilance and cooperation between UNHCR, refugees, civil society and resettlement partners is necessary to prevent, detect and respond to fraud, corruption and misconduct.

Under UNHCR’s Policy on Addressing fraud Committed by persons of Concern and as part of the annual risk review within UNHCR’s Enterprise Risk Management framework, each country office must periodically assess the risks of fraud committed by persons of concern in UNHCR’s protection, assistance and solutions interventions. Appropriate risk treatments should be identified and implemented that lower the risk to an acceptable level.

The Integrity Unit at UNHCR headquarters

The Integrity Unit in the Division of International Protection (DIP) provides proactive and reactive integrity support to country offices. Integrity support allows for an objective, expert assessment of vulnerabilities to fraud, critical protection gaps and procedural inadequacies that create possibilities for fraud to occur and which go beyond resettlement. Interventions are then developed in consultation with the country office and the regional bureau to address these gaps, together with broader actions of a more systematic or strategic nature. The Integrity team also supports country offices with the use of the Fraud Module and recording inconsistencies in proGres in compliance with the Policy.

UNHCR has a long-standing zero-tolerance approach to fraud of all kinds, and has a comprehensive policy framework for detection, prevention and response. Suspected fraud committed by persons of concern is addressed under the Policy and the related Operational Guidelines. Suspected fraud or misconduct by UNHCR personnel or any entity having a contractual or funding relationship with UNHCR is addressed by the Inspector General’s Office (IGO).

Preventing fraud in resettlement

  • Ensure standard operating procedures (SOPs) are updated and monitored for compliance

There are a number of fraud prevention measures that require proactive efforts by resettlement personnel in their daily work, including communication with communities, individual counselling and being alert to inconsistencies in personal data. The Anti-Fraud Policy and Operational Guidelines set out mandatory fraud prevention, detection and response measures that each operation should have in place. The Accountable Officer for resettlement activities should work with the operation’s Anti-Fraud Focal Point (AFFP) to ensure that these measures are implemented and included in SOPs, whether in resettlement SOPs or Anti-fraud SOPs that comprehensively cover resettlement. Robust SOPs for registration, biometric identity verification, and other case processing and programme activities are equally important for resettlement fraud prevention. For guidance on roles and accountabilities in fraud prevention, refer to related internal guidance available at the link above.

  • Communicate with communities about resettlement…

Proactive communication with communities about the use of resettlement, including to whom it may or may not be available and why, promotes the circulation of accurate information and diminishes the impact of rumours and misinformation. It also helps to manage refugee expectations while reducing the risk of fraud and corruption due to lack of reliable information about how resettlement works. Feedback and response mechanisms in the office should enable UNHCR to be alert to and take the necessary action in relation to misinformation about resettlement, including misuse of the UNHCR logo and other abuses.

Communication efforts in resettlement should include a consistent and clear anti-fraud component. Furthermore, feedback mechanisms must allow for safe and effective reporting of complaints about SEA, corruption and fraud in resettlement. Refer to AAP materials in UNHCR’s Operational Guidance Toolkit, including in particular UNHCR’s Compact Guidance for Senior Managers. See 2.4 Communication with communities about resettlement. 

  • …including through individual counselling

Individual counselling should include information about UNHCR’s zero tolerance approach to fraud and corruption and underscore the cost-free nature of UNHCR and partner services, including resettlement. Individual counselling should be conducted in a way that promotes trust and understanding in the resettlement process. Persons of concern should feel comfortable to come forward if they have faced extortion, exploitation, abuse or threats in accessing free services provided by UNHCR and its partners. This also applies to instances where they have paid or been asked to pay to obtain such services, including access to resettlement. Individuals should be informed that allegations received of refugees engaged in fraud will be shared with resettlement countries when this information comes to light, even post-departure. UNHCR should have procedures and systems in place to offer persons of concern coming forward with such information adequate protection if needed, in coordination with relevant host country authorities.   

Reporting an allegation of resettlement fraud

Inconsistencies in personal data or other information that raise serious doubts about previously declared identity, family composition and/or need for resettlement must be reported to the Anti-Fraud Focal Point (AFFP) as suspected fraud, when the suspicion relates to a person of concern. Refer to internal guidance available at the link above on how to report such inconsistencies in accordance with the Policy on Addressing Fraud Committed by Persons of Concern.

Examples of situations that must be treated as suspected fraud when they arise during the resettlement process include:

  • Registering as an asylum-seeker more than once (in the same country or in a different country) and presenting different identities, e.g., name and/or country of origin.
  • Misrepresenting family composition, e.g., by failing to disclose a family member. This includes the case of falsely claiming that a male family member is missing or deceased, to benefit from resettlement consideration as a woman at risk.
  • Misrepresenting children as their own biological children, which, among other risks to the child, may lead to family separation, abduction or trafficking.
  • Manipulating personal documents, e.g., national ID document/ passport, to change date of birth or other personal information.
  • Misrepresenting personal circumstances relevant to resettlement eligibility.

Where the above-listed inconsistencies in personal data appear to implicate a UNHCR colleague, partner or other entity with whom UNHCR has a contractual relationship, this must be reported to the Inspector General’s Office.

How to report suspected fraud?

Suspected fraud by persons of concern → UNHCR colleagues must report to the relevant Anti-Fraud Focal Point. Other individuals can report suspicions to UNHCR via the confidential feedback mechanisms established in the relevant UNHCR office.

Suspected fraud by UNHCR, partner, or other entity with whom UNHCR has a contractual relationship → any person can report to the Inspector General’s Office.

Suspected fraud implicating persons of concern and UNHCR, partner, or other entity with whom UNHCR has a contractual relationshipany person can report to the Inspector General’s Office.

Confidentiality and discretion are paramount when reporting fraud, in order not to jeopardize a possible investigation and to ensure procedural fairness for all involved. No information about the suspected fraud may be shared outside of established reporting channels.

Disclosing fraud to resettlement countries

Transparency and disclosure to resettlement States on fraud committed by persons of concern is important for maintaining confidence in UNHCR’s processes and the availability of durable solutions. In all cases where fraud has been established (regardless of whether it is relevant to the resettlement submission), a summary of the findings will be provided in the RRF if the case still meets the criteria for submission for resettlement. Refer to internal guidance available at the link above on the process for disclosing fraud to resettlement countries.

Fraud and misconduct by UNHCR colleagues, partner staff, vendors or contractors

Inspector General’s Office
The IGO is concerned with fraud and misconduct by UNHCR personnel or any entity with whom UNHCR has a contractual relationship, including partners, security personnel and interpreters, for example. Allegations of fraud or misconduct must be reported to the IGO and are assessed, and as necessary, investigated, by the IGO Investigation Service. 

Fraud by UNHCR personnel or that of any of its partners or other entities with whom UNHCR has a contractual relationship is considered misconduct. Misconduct covers a broad range of wrongdoing, including fraudulent misrepresentation, corruption, to abuse of power, embezzlement, exploitation of persons of concern, discrimination, sexual exploitation and abuse.

In general, fraud and misconduct at resettlement usually involve providing access to resettlement in return for financial or other gain, or fraudulently misrepresenting the capacity to do so. Giving preferential treatment even without the expectation of something in return may also be misconduct, for example, where there is a conflict of interest due to personal relationships.

Examples of fraud/ misconduct by UNHCR or partners include:

  • drafting false refugee claims or false needs assessments for resettlement;
  • unauthorized adding, altering, substituting, deleting or removing information/documents or photographs on file;
  • deliberately entering incorrect information or altering information or photos in proGres;
  • preferential processing or access to the resettlement procedure;
  • requesting money or exploiting persons of concern in other ways regarding access to UNHCR or to resettlement;
  • deliberately losing, destroying, or failing to process a case file;
  • translating/ interpreting a false or embellished claim based on known “successful” claims rather than translating/interpreting what the refugee says;
  • coaching refugees and others of concern prior to or during the interview;
  • providing false medical attestations;
  • discriminatory treatment of refugees based on prejudice against individuals, for example, of diverse sexual orientation or gender identity, religious or ethnic communities, without an objective assessment of protection needs;
  • sexual exploitation and abuse
  • breaches of an individual’s right to protection of their personal data, for example, through unauthorized disclosure of their address or other information to third parties (including family members, current/former spouse, etc.).

Security personnel can also be particularly exposed to fraud pressures as they are essential to accessing UNHCR premises. Security personnel should limit interactions with interpreters and refugees and report all suspicious activity or advances made to them. As with other personnel, security personnel should receive regular anti-fraud and PSEA awareness training. They should be subject to regular rotation, monitoring, checks and observation. Security cameras may also be used, where appropriate. Complaints by persons of concern against security guards must be facilitated by the UNHCR office via a confidential feedback and complaints mechanism.

Any person who becomes aware of suspected fraud and misconduct by UNHCR personnel, partner staff, vendors and/or contractors must report it as soon as possible to the IGO at [email protected]. Consider the following advice on reporting:

  • A person should not wait until they have conclusive evidence about fraud. They should simply report their concern to the IGO who will then determine whether or not there is sufficient information to pursue the matter.
  • If a person is not sure whether an issue deserves to be reported to the IGO, they should simply write to the IGO and ask. They will receive guidance about how to handle the situation. The IGO is available to discuss, advise and provide guidance to anyone with a concern about fraud and misconduct.
  • Reporting suspected misconduct to the IGO does not engage the reporting individual in any process nor impose on them any responsibilities. A brochure on how to report misconduct is available here.
  • Failure by UNHCR colleagues to comply with the duty to report may be considered misconduct and may lead to an investigation and the institution of disciplinary proceedings. Making a malicious report or providing information to the IGO that is intentionally false or misleading may also constitute misconduct.

The IGO will carefully assess the whole situation and proceed according to the “do no harm” principle and a victim-centred approach. If an individual is worried about security, protection or other negative consequences linked to the reporting, they should share their concerns with the IGO to see together how best to handle the situation. In the case of protection risks to persons of concern affected by the fraud or misconduct (victims and witnesses), extra precautions are to be taken in collaboration between protection colleagues in the operation and the IGO in order to maintain confidentiality and reinforce protections (in cooperation with national authorities, as necessary). For refugees already in the resettlement process, processing may be expedited, and resettlement implemented before the investigation commences, for example.

It is important to avoid suspending resettlement activities for refugees who are not implicated in the alleged fraud. Any response measures should target those who commit fraud and, in principle, should not affect the whole resettlement programme. However, where there are clear indications of broad and systematic fraud issues and the overall integrity of the resettlement procedure is compromised, UNHCR may decide to suspend all resettlement activities in a country.

Fraud by other third parties

A resettlement exploitation scheme may involve, for example, persons or groups of persons, referred to as “brokers” or “facilitators”, who falsely claim to have links to UNHCR and the ability to ensure that refugees or others obtain resettlement. Such schemes may involve coaching refugees on false claims or promising false documents, interview spots, or a place in the group of next departures, and are generally offered for considerable fees. To help convince potential victims, such persons may show photos of themselves with UNHCR personnel; use false UNHCR signs and misuse the UNHCR logo, especially online, and even set up false UNHCR websites or social media channels. They may also falsely claim to be affiliated with NGOs or other entities working with UNHCR on resettlement referrals. Fraud by other third parties must be reported to the UNHCR Representative in the country, via internal reporting mechanisms or through the confidential feedback and complaints mechanism in a UNHCR office.