SIGAR: Afghan refugee ministries stymied by corruption, incompetence
September 3, 2015
KABUL, Afghanistan — Millions of Afghans displaced by decades of war and economic malaise continue to face problems because of the corruption and incompetence of government ministries responsible for helping them, a U.S. watchdog agency said Thursday.
Despite almost $1 billion in U.S. aid money and the efforts of international organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the true number of Afghan refugees in countries like Pakistan and Iran remains unverified, and the Afghan government is unable to effectively help refugees who try to return home or are otherwise internally displaced, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
Almost 4 million Afghans are refugees in other countries or internally displaced within Afghanistan, according to U.N. estimates. Afghans make up one of the largest groups of refugees currently seeking asylum in Europe, with many taking a hazardous route across the Mediterranean Sea. And officials report a spike in the number of Afghans applying for passports and visas to leave the country.
At the heart of the problems for refugees who do return, either voluntarily or otherwise, according to SIGAR, was the Afghan government’s failure to implement the so-called Solutions Strategy, a joint program between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran that calls for the countries to help Afghan refugees who voluntarily return and to provide aid, such as new land for homes.
Under the administration of former President Hamid Karzai, the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation was viewed as so corrupt and incompetent that the U.S. State Department and the U.N. ended most of their financial aid to the ministry, the audit reported. Other government ministries that have responsibilities for helping displaced Afghans have shown little inclination to pitch in, the report added.
“The new Afghan national unity government has indicated its intent and commitment to addressing these issues” within the refugees ministry, the report concluded. “However, until the (ministry) is able to identify returnee needs and communicate those needs to other ministries responsible for implementing Afghanistan’s national priority programs, effectively implement the Land Allocation Scheme, and address ongoing corruption issues, refugees will continue to face challenges (reintegrating) into Afghanistan.”
In 2011, for example, a State Department probe found that of 266,000 families who had applied for land, only 38,000 had received plots, and only 9,200 of those had moved in. In 2013, a U.N. investigation found that refugee ministry officials had misappropriated at least $117,000 through forged documents and other illegal measures.
Those failures have a cascading effect on efforts to help refugees still in other countries, the report’s authors said. “This not only undermines U.S. and other donor efforts to address the ongoing Afghan refugee situation, but also discourages the Pakistani and Iranian governments from abiding by their commitments under the Solutions Strategy to support Afghan refugees residing in their countries.”
One State Department official told SIGAR investigators that “refugees do not get much attention because they are not a priority issue and ministries do not think refugees are directly related to their work.”
Besides the problems within the Afghan government, aid agencies and the governments in the region have been unable to verify the true scope of the refugee crisis, the report said.
Both the U.S. government and the U.N. have pinned their hopes on the administration of President Ashraf Ghani, who replaced Karzai last year.
Ghani has vowed to crack down on crooked dealings that have plagued the country and on Tuesday called for a “holy war” on corruption. But the government, which was formed after a contentious election, remains hampered by infighting and an inability to fill key Cabinet positions, all while a violent insurgency continues across the country.
UNHCR urged the government and foreign donors to demonstrate their commitment to the resettlement program. “Support and assistance from the international community will be essential to ensure a transition towards more stable development,” an online statement said.
To try to keep international aid flowing, the SIGAR report recommended that the State Department monitor capacity building efforts at the refugee ministry and work with the Afghan government to assess how returning refugees can be helped.
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