IRIN: For refugees in Sudan, fears surround probe into UN resettlement fraud

As the UN’s refugee agency investigates allegations of bribery and corruption in the resettlement process in Sudan, dozens of refugees have told IRIN they’re too fearful to give full details to UNHCR-appointed investigators. They worry about retribution from those they’re making allegations against because of what they say is a lack of protection for witnesses and close links between some local UNHCR staff and Sudanese security officials.

Refugees have told IRIN that since the investigations began, they’ve been intimidated and harassed by some Sudanese staff at the UNHCR office in Khartoum, as well as by state security agents and officials of the Sudanese government’s Commission of Refugees. Refugees say they have been called on the phone or asked to meet with these officials and then been pressured not to testify on pain of having their cases for resettlement closed or losing access to other assistance. The Sudanese Commissioner of Refugees did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

On 15 May, IRIN published a report based on interviews with more than a dozen refugees and a former UNHCR staff member. They alleged that decisions on which refugees would be permanently resettled to a third country were often made on the basis of bribes rather than standard eligibility criteria. Two days later, UNHCR suspended resettlement from Sudan and confirmed that in February and March it had launched investigations into alleged corruption, and would soon deploy an anti-fraud team.

In a statement announcing the suspension, UNHCR encouraged anyone with information to contact its Inspector General’s Office (IGO), an oversight body that investigates complaints of misconduct, “without delay”.

Over the past 10 weeks, an IGO investigator has contacted refugees and asked them to do phone or Skype interviews. In an email seen by IRIN, “potential witnesses” were told their interviews could be recorded and details could be disclosed on a “need to know” basis with both the subject of the investigation and those involved in taking disciplinary action. The email also stated that they would be asked to swear an oath to tell the truth and shouldn’t discuss the investigation with anyone without prior IGO approval.

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