‘Ghost’ Malian refugees show abuse of UN registration system

Refugees from Mali in Niger

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) counted up to three times the actual number of people fleeing conflict in Mali, data from camps in neighboring West African nations has shown, raising questions about wastage of donor funds.

At camps in Burkina Faso, the initial registration completed in May 2012 suggested that 107,000 Malians had fled an offensive that year by Islamist rebels and their Tuareg separatist allies.

However, this month’s final registration phase, including finger printing and biometric operations like iris scans, came up with only 34,000, according to UNHCR data.

With a wave of major refugee crises in Africa from South Sudan to Central African Republic, estimated figures are crucial for donors to allocate funding to the humanitarian response.

However, the Mali data suggest such initial estimates, for which officials count the head of the household and accept his declaration on number of dependents, are being exploited.

UNHCR sources said Malian Tuareg chiefs cut deals with village elders in Burkina Faso to present local children as their own to gain extra rations which they later sold.

“I saw it with my own eyes – truck loads of local children arriving for registration at the camps,” said one source who asked not to be named. “Some of the Tuaregs were saying they had up to 15 children in their care and nobody could say otherwise.”

Cyprien Fabre from the European Union Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), a major donor to UNHCR, said it knew nothing about this but accepted over-registration as normal, especially in drought-ridden regions where locals are desperate for food…