UN Refugee Agency Cites 5 for Fraud, Threats at Kenya Camp

The U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday it has turned to Kenyan police for possible criminal prosecution of three staffers for allegedly carrying out threats, intimidation and fraud against refugees and other personnel at a camp in northwest Kenya.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Babar Baloch says the move, which has led to one arrest so far, follows an internal investigation launched after allegations of wrongdoing involving those three and two more staffers at the Kakuma refugee camp emerged between April 2016 and January 2017.

Baloch said staff members allegedly sought payments of $500 to $2,500 from refugees for various services that should be free, threatened other workers and intimidated the camp’s occupants.

Revelations of illegal activities by refugee camp employees are uncommon from the Geneva-based agency. It said in a statement that in response it had launched an independent management review, an unspecified “information campaign” and efforts to “deepen anti-fraud awareness and prevention measures.”

“Protecting lives is at the core of UNHCR’s work, which makes the betrayal of trust we have seen in this case so galling,” Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees George Okoth-Obbo said in the statement. 

Two of the staffers have resigned and internal “disciplinary processes” were under way against the others, UNHCR said.

As the allegations emerged, the agency said it suspended normal resettlements from Kakuma, a 25-year-old camp now housing 172,000 refugees — mostly from South Sudan.

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