US Kills Afghan Refugee Program Funding, Citing ‘Corruption’

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U.S. State Department officials stopped funding training of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation due to chronic corruption and lack of capabilities, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in a report made public Thursday.

The U.S. has spent nearly $1 billion on Afghan refugee aid since 2002, largely through organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee on the Red Cross.

The department’s International Organization for Migration funded a two-year program in 2012 to train the Afghan government in helping refugees and returning Afghans, but gave up in 2014 after the Afghan government’s corruption and inability to provide needed services made working together “extremely challenging,” the report said.

The 2014 decision to terminate U.S. funding for the MORR program is only now being made public. The U.S. will still fund aid for millions of Afghans fleeing to, and returning from, Iran and Pakistan through outside organizations.

“Because the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MORR), under the previous Afghan administration, faced problems with corruption and a lack of capacity, State currently has no plans to provide monetary assistance to the ministry,” Special Inspector General John Sopko recently told Secretary of State John Kerry and other top department officials. “The new Afghan administration has indicated its commitment to addressing these issues within the ministry and assisting Afghan refugees and returnees.”

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,” an unnamed department official said, according to the report. The U.S. official was quoting an unnamed Afghan official.

This isn’t the first time U.S. and Afghan officials have called MORR corrupt or incompetent.

A 2013 Afghan Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee assessment of MORR found the ministry’s process for distributing land to refugees “afflicted by institutional corruption,” SIGAR noted.

A U.N. Office of Inspector General investigation that same year found MORR spent about $117,000 in UNHCR funds for staff bonuses, reimbursements to officials supported by forged documents, and an office rental that violated both UNHCR rules and Afghan laws.

The Afghan government is particularly falling behind on placing returning families on land plots. Only 14 percent of the 266,000 returning families that applied for it received land, a 2011 State Department Office of Inspector General report found.

The State Department and UNHCR don’t have reliable refugee figures, since they largely rely on numbers from the Pakistani and Irani governments. The UNHCR, for example, estimates 23,000 Afghan refugees die in Pakistan each year, but the Pakistani government only reported six deaths from January 2008 through June 2014.

UNHCR estimates about 2.5 million Afghans are living in Pakistan, and at least 950,000 are living in Iran, as of December 2014.

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