UNHCR outraged at corruption claims

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has described as "malicious" and "outrageous" allegations of corruption and mismanagement levelled against it by a group of Kenyan politicians over the agency’s management of refugee camps in the northern part of the country.

"These allegations are baseless. They can only serve to mislead people and further worsen the plight of a particularly vulnerable group of people," Arun Sala-Ngarm, the UNHCR deputy representative in Kenya, said in the statement released on Wednesday.

The lawmakers, members of the ruling Kenya African National Union, said UNHCR had failed, to meet the needs of some 231,000 refugees in the Kakuma and Dadaab camps and that Kenyan citizens were being improperly misplaced to make way for them, AFP reported on Wednesday. The MPs were referring to the recent transfer of some 12,000 Somali ethnic Bantu refugees, from Dadaab to Kakuma, for relocation to the United States.

"UNHCR takes care of refugees in other parts of the world, especially Kosovo, giving them 11 dollars a day, while it bluntly ignores those from Africa, Kenya in particular paying them less than 10 US cent," AFP reported Ekwe Ethuro, MP for Turkana Central, the constituency in which Kakuma camp is situated, as saying.

The MP’s added that UNHCR had further engaged in "grand corruption" at the expense of the refugees’ host community. "UNHCR delivers only 10 percent of the total resources meant for refugees, while the remaining 90 percent is used to hire Kenyan policemen to clobber locals, buy satellite dishes and, eating protein rich foods and drinking beer, " AFP quoted Mohammed Shidiye from northeastern Kenya as saying.
The MPs' remarks followed an in incident on Friday, in which three residents of the local community were killed in a clash with the police, following a dispute over contracts UNHCR has issued the local community to supply dry firewood in the camp. The controversy over the camps began on 9 July, when politicians from the region issued UNHCR with a week's ultimatum to relocate.

UNHCR Regional Information Officer Jonathan Clayton told IRIN on Wednesday that the problem had been caused by a local group, which was demanding an increase in the price of a bundle of firewood from the current 30 to 45 shillings.
"This is blatant extortion,” he said. “UNHCR has established a far tendering system. The MPs want the contracts for their own selfish gains without going through the tendering system.”

At present, 41 groups from Turkana District, where Kakuma is located, won the competitive bidding tender to supply 84,000 kg of firewood to the refugee camp, while 80 groups are supplying Dadaab, UNHCR said.

Clayton said that the land on which the Somali Bantus were settled had been unoccupied, and was only allocated after negotiations with local groups. "There was no question of locals being pushed away," he said.

UNHCR had initiated a number of environmentally friendly activities in the region, such as tree-planting and promoting fuel saving stoves, the delivery of firewood into the refugee camps, from which local communities were benefiting.
These efforts, costing millions of dollars each year, were being made in acknowledgement of the ecological destruction caused by large refugee movement, the UNHCR said.

Clayton said UNHCR officials would meet Vice-President George Saitoti, a number of senior government officials and local MPs on Wednesday over the matter.