DADAAB, Kenya — Hamdi Abdullahi stands outside the United Nations compound in this dusty, sprawling camp — home to more than 200,000 Somali refugees — and throws stones at its barbed wire fence and heavy gates.
Though the U.N.’s refugee agency, UNHCR, is known everywhere as the chief protector and spokesman for most of the globe’s 25 million refugees, Abdullahi shouts as she hurls the stones, accusing the agency of stealing her children.
She has been protesting outside the compound off and on for years.
The Somali refugee’s four children are now 8,000 miles away in Minnesota, with her former husband and his new wife. She last saw them in 2014. They were among the less than one percent of refugees in the entire world chosen to be resettled in a new country and given a chance to start their lives again.
Abdullahi said that while her family’s need to resettle was genuine, she was left behind because of false information fed to the U.S. government by a UNHCR resettlement officer, David Momanyi, to whom her ex-husband paid a hefty bribe. “I always remember his face,” Abdullahi said.
Like any divorced male the joke occurred to me right away: did he have to pay more to leave her behind? But when you get to the end of the quote above you realize he very well may have bribed the corrupt UN official to hamstring her so he could skedaddle with wife number whatever. The sympathetic account from something called “100 Reporters” linked here isn’t interested in refugees scamming the system but in corrupt African officials working for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) shaking them down for bribes.
Whatever the case, the husband sounds like someone who has indeed found refuge:
Reached by phone, Abdullahi’s husband confirmed he had been resettled in Minnesota, but said any allegations of corruption were “false information.”
“The U.S. government gave me resettlement to come to the United States but that’s it. There’s no bribe. … She was rejected by the United States government. That issue, it’s over… You know (in) America there’s no bribes.”
Eight thousand miles. Eight thousand miles he put between himself and his rock-throwing ex. Sir, we salute you. Cue up a parody of the old Budweiser Real Men of Genius campaign for this guy.
Refugees who are part of the Nakivale settlement in southwest Uganda said UNHCR staffers and officials from organizations that work with them demand bribes for everything from medical referrals to food rations to contacting police, and it can cost $5,000 in bribes to resettle a family.
In the Dadaab refugee camp, whose residents are almost all Somalis, 19 refugees said it used to cost as much as $50,000 to resettle a large family, or roughly $3,000 per person, before the Trump administration effectively stopped resettlement of Somalis in the U.S.
Refugees who cannot afford to pay bribes report that unscrupulous resettlement workers will sell their case files, often compiled painstakingly over years, to others with more wealth.
When I see Africans claiming to be displaced coming up with cash a lot of working Americans don’t have in their bank accounts I suspect it’s because extended families pool their money to send over one family with the expectation more will be brought over via family reunification later, without having to bribe the other Africans.
It’s an old story now, part of the larger story of corruption in UN efforts in Africa:
However, exploitation of refugees by the UNHCR staff is not new. Frank Montil, a former senior UNHCR investigator and narcotics detective, uncovered a refugee extortion racket in Kenya in 2001, in which the agency’s staff may have made millions of dollars by taking bribes at every stage of the resettlement process.
“We’re 18 years later, and it’s even worse now than ever before,” he said, after hearing the results of this investigation… Like several other former U.N. investigators and insiders who spoke to NBC News, Montil compared the UNHCR to the Catholic Church, in how he says it repeatedly tries to avoid admitting or tackling wrongdoing by staff, and will not allow skilled independent investigators to get involved.
Everyone involved in refugee resettlement is unsurprisingly less affected by corruption than the apparent true-believers at 100 Reporters.
Refugees, current and former UNHCR employees, aid workers and two former U.N. investigators say bribery and corruption are common in a variety of services the UNHCR and companion organizations are charged with providing, but report that it is especially unavoidable in resettlement — a precious opportunity for the world’s most vulnerable refugees to restart their lives in safe new countries, usually in the West.
Eliminating corruption would spoil a “precious opportunity”; the UN and others are in the business of facilitating migration; the best face you can put on their program is of a dunce who views it as global poverty alleviation. The others are all more sinister and ugly.
The report elaborates, without noting it, how much refugee resettlement has become a racket, with those taking advantage not the most desperate but the most cunning.
In Dadaab, where resettlement is known as “boufis” — or “the urge to move abroad,” resettlement is associated with wealth. “A poor man has no place in resettlement,” said one Somali refugee in his 50s who has been in the camp 16 years. “So many in the diaspora, when I ask them [how they were resettled], they say, ‘It was my money.’”
In Kakuma, northwest Kenya, home to almost 200,000 people from a dozen countries, refugees said it is possible to pay some of a resettlement bribe by signing over ownership of your shelter. “If you don’t have money, you need to hand over your house, if it’s good,” said a South Sudanese refugee, who paid $600 to forward his own case. “If your house is bad and you don’t have the money, you will never go.”
Settling refugees in neighboring countries with an eye toward sending them back would put an immediate stop to this, because nobody’s really paying to escape their home as much as they’re paying to come to a US they see as a consumer wonderland, what servicemen abroad used to call “the Big PX”.
But one more nod of respect on the way out, to the man who put his ex on the other side of the world. “All your exes live in Texas, you say? Phhhhht!”