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UN says millions misspent on Africa’s biggest refugee crisis

November 29, 2018
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FILE - In this Friday, June 9, 2017 file photo, a South Sudanese refugee girl prepares to lick the last of her corn and soya porridge breakfast from her bowl, at the Imvepi reception center, where newly arrived refugees are processed before being allocated plots of land in nearby Bidi Bidi refugee settlement, in northern Uganda. An internal inquiry released in Nov. 2018 says the United Nations refugee agency has misspent millions of dollars on Africa's largest refugee crisis. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — The United Nations refugee agency has misspent millions of dollars on Africa’s largest refugee crisis, including paying $320,000 for what became a parking lot at the Ugandan prime minister’s office, an internal inquiry says.

The new report by the U.N.’s internal watchdog says about $11 million alone is now being spent on a recount of the South Sudanese who poured into Uganda, to weed out potentially hundreds of thousands of “ghost refugees.” Over-counting refugees to bring in more funding carries the risk of officials quietly pocketing the difference.

More than a million South Sudanese fled to neighboring Uganda after fresh fighting broke out in July 2016, causing a scramble by the U.N. and other humanitarian actors to help them find food and shelter.

Uganda has been praised internationally for welcoming refugees but has faced scrutiny over corruption in the process. Uganda’s prime minister did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The new report echoes findings of an earlier investigation by the U.N. refugee agency that indicated serious oversight and other failings, agency spokesman Babar Baloch told The Associated Press. Action to address those issues is already underway, he said.

Also among the new inquiry’s findings: The U.N. refugee agency gave a budget of $7.9 million to a logistics partner to build more than 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) of roads, but “it did not have experience in road construction.”

With South Sudan’s warring sides signing a fragile new peace deal in September, there are concerns that the refugees who have fled to Uganda and elsewhere eventually will come under pressure to return home. Past peace deals in the five-year civil war have collapsed in gunfire.

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Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed.

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