A South Sudanese woman at Bidibidi refugee settlement in Yumbe district, northwestern Uganda. (Photo/Edward Echwalu/EU/ECHO/Flickr).

Inflated Numbers, Extortion, Women Trafficked Back Into South Sudan As ‘Wives’: Uganda’s Refugee Scandal

THE Ugandan government has suspended five senior officials for allegedly inflating refugee figures to swindle donor funds.

But the scandal could yet be worse, with additional allegations that refugee women in the north of the country have been trafficked back into South Sudan and sold as “wives”.

Apollo Kazungu, Uganda’s commissioner for refugees, and members of his staff have been accused of colluding with officials from the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme to fiddle the numbers. Millions of dollars in aid are believed to have been lost as a result, the Guardian reported. The EU, which provides funding to the two agencies, is investigating the charges.

Uganda claims to house 1.4 million refugees, a million of whom have fled the ongoing civil war in South Sudan. The concern over numbers is not new, and donors are demanding the implementation of a UN-controlled biometric system of refugee identification.

The UN’s top official in Uganda, Rosa Malango, has raised a range of concerns, from “corruption to fraud, from trafficking of women and girls to intimidation and harassment of UN personnel”.

In the case of trafficking, South Sudanese girls and women are being sold across the border to combatants with the possible complicity of Ugandan officials, AFP reported.

According to an internal Ugandan government document, Ugandan officials also extort money from newly-arrived refugees, insisting on payment before providing the free registration service that allows access to aid.

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