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UNHCR holds training courses in a bid to combat resettlement fraud

News Stories, 4 December 2006

© UNHCR/B.Press
A group of Somali Bantu refugees at a camp in north-east Kenya before heading off for resettlement in the United States. UNHCR works hard to counter fraud in its resettlement programmes.

NAIROBI, Kenya, December 4 (UNHCR) In a stepped up bid to combat fraud, the UN refugee agency has held a special training course for frontline staff in its resettlement programmes for refugees in Africa.

Some 30 participants from more than a dozen UNHCR offices in eastern, central and southern Africa took part in the workshop last Thursday and Friday. They were taught about a wide range of practices to watch out for, including identity and document fraud, accounts of phony security incidents or events, fake medical reports and bribery.

The course was also attended by government representatives of the United States, Canada and Australia three of the major resettlement countries as well as an International Organization for Migration official. Similar training workshops are planned for West Africa and Asia. The training is one of a number of initiatives undertaken by the resettlement service to enhance counter-fraud activities.

"It is particularly reassuring to us to see that UNHCR is doing something about resettlement fraud and that there is transparency in dealing with it. It gives us more confidence," said Canadian diplomat Tracy Vansickle.

In 2001, resettlement programmes for more than 150,000 refugees living in Kenya were suspended after it was discovered that a criminal network had infiltrated UNHCR's refugee status determination and resettlement processes in Nairobi to force bribes from people seeking resettlement to third countries. Measures have since been introduced to prevent such fraud, but the agency remains on the alert for new scams, including use of the internet.

"It is clear that the vast majority of refugees are law-abiding. However fraud from individual cases to larger scale criminal enterprises serves to undermine and even threaten this important protection tool and durable solution," Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR's director for resettlement services, said in a written message to the participants at the two-day workshop.

Resettlement, repatriation and local integration are the three so-called durable solutions that UNHCR aspires to provide for refugees. Some 50,000 people find homes in third countries every year with the agency's help.

Cochetel said it was essential to step up efforts to combat resettlement fraud because "the consequences can be detrimental, above all, to refugees as resettlement programmes may be suspended indefinitely as a result of fraud."

In the class on identity fraud, a UNHCR protection officer told the workshop about a refugee from Eritrea who had presented herself as an Ethiopian national because she believed this would boost her chances of resettlement. The refugee spoke Amharic a language spoken in both Ethiopia and Eritrea which made early detection of the fraud difficult.

Another UNHCR participant said she had come across cases of Burundian refugees presenting themselves as Rwandan nationals. Rwanda and Burundi have the same ethnic make-up.

UNHCR staff said that in some cases refugees registered non-family members as their relatives in an attempt to benefit from more assistance. When it came to processing for resettlement, they claimed that the relative was dead. "We have seen false death certificates, particularly when families are unable to produce children registered in the family unit," a protection officer told the workshop.

A fraud officer from the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi said DNA testing was increasingly being used by immigration services to determine family connections. However, the Canadian official acknowledged that the high cost of DNA testing limited UNHCR's ability to use the tests regularly.

UNHCR staff were urged to remain vigilant for "red flags" or signs of possible fraud or corruption such as sudden unexplained wealth of individuals involved in the resettlement process. Participants also prepared a list of situations which could create opportunity for fraud and corruption in UNHCR offices.

"If your systems are weak and the management oversight in resettlement is modest or inadequate, it all comes together to create an opportunity for fraud," warned Ted Tunis, the lead trainer at the workshop.

By Millicent Mutuli in Nairobi, Kenya




Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003

This gallery highlights the history of UNHCR's efforts to help some of the world's most disenfranchised people to find a place called home, whether through repatriation, resettlement or local integration.

After decades of hospitality after World War II, as the global political climate changed and the number of people cared for by UNHCR swelled from around one million in 1951, to more than 27 million people in the mid-1990s, the welcome mat for refugees was largely withdrawn.

Voluntary repatriation has become both the preferred and only practical solution for today's refugees. In fact, the great majority of them choose to return to their former homes, though for those who cannot do so for various reasons, resettlement in countries like the United States and Australia, and local integration within regions where they first sought asylum, remain important options.

This gallery sees Rwandans returning home after the 1994 genocide; returnees to Kosovo receiving reintegration assistance; Guatemalans obtaining land titles in Mexico; and Afghans flocking home in 2003 after decades in exile.

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003

Out of Harm's Way in Romania

Peaceful days and a safe environment is probably more than these Palestinian and Sudanese refugees expected when they were stuck in a desert camp in Iraq. Now they are recovering at a special transit centre in the Romanian city of Timisoara while their applications for resettlement in a third country are processed.

Most people forced to flee their homes are escaping from violence or persecution, but some find themselves still in danger after arriving at their destination. UNHCR uses the centre in Romania to bring such people out of harm's way until they can be resettled.

The Emergency Transit Centre (ETC) in Timisoara was opened in 2008. Another one will be formally opened in Humenné, Slovakia, within the coming weeks. The ETC provides shelter and respite for up to six months, during which time the evacuees can prepare for a new life overseas. They can attend language courses and cultural orientation classes.

Out of Harm's Way in Romania