UNHCR recalls country representative over refugee scandal

UNHCR country representative Bornwell Kantande has been recalled in connection with the refugee scandal. File photo.

Government has confirmed that UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has recalled its country representative in connection with the scandal where billions of shillings meant for refugees in the country has been swindled.

The Minister of Refugees, Relief And Disaster Preparedness, Hilary Onek, said Bornwell Kantande is set to leave the country and Joel Boutrue, a French national, is set to take his place.

The minister’s confirmation ends weeks of speculation surrounding the fate of Kantande, whom donors accused of not adequately supervising their funds meant to cater for more than 1.4 million refugees in the country.

Fillipo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is said to have written to government on February 6, announcing that he was recalling Kantande.

The donor community has reacted with anger to the scandal and asked government to investigate the allegations that millions of dollars that the donors contributed during the solidarity summit held last year have been swindled. Also at the centre of storm is the trafficking of children and women for sex and forceful marriages.

Britain this week announced that they are withholding their contribution to the refugee cause until the allegations are investigated and the culprits brought to book. In response, Uganda has since then suspended four officials from the Office of the Prime Minister over the scandal. The affected officials are Apollo Kazungu (commissioner refugees), Walter Omondi (Refugee Desk Officer in Mbarara), John Baptist Sentamu, formerly the camp commandant in Mbarara, who was recently transferred to Hoima and Francis Nkwasibwe (a registration officer/assistant commandant in Mbarara, who too had been recently transferred).

UNHCR recalls country representative over refugee scandal
During the annual refugee partnership conference held at Kampala over a week ago, the Prime Minister, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, said they had instituted senior officers from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations at the Uganda police to carry out the investigations. UN investigators also flew into the country to join in the investigations, putting pressure on the government to act.

According to the story, the scam was first raised by Rosa Malango, the UN Country Representative, who wrote to Dr. Rugunda, querying the management of the refugee situation in Uganda.

Malango raised three major issues; doubtful number of refugees in Uganda; abuse of funds and other resources by some officials and suspected trafficking in girls and women refugees.

Uganda is host to about 1.4 million refugees, majority of who are from the South Sudan, with the rest coming from the DRC, Burundi, Somalia and Rwanda. The country has been hailed as one with the friendliest refugee policies in the world. However, the recent events have tarnished the reputation of the country, adding to the already image over rampant corruption in many government departments.



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