UNHCR Combat Refugee Cheats

Hundreds of returning Afghan refugees are going straight back to Pakistan in an attempt to pick up extra cash handouts.

UNHCR Combat Refugee Cheats

Hundreds of returning Afghan refugees are going straight back to Pakistan in an attempt to pick up extra cash handouts.

Thursday, 3 March, 2005

Gul Rasool is a professional refugee. He treks over the mountains from Pakistan into Afghanistan, collects 200 US dollars from the refugee agencies, then turns around and heads back to do it all again.

At least he did until last week. His wife was heartily sick of being dragged along on the 500 km round trip and informed the authorities of his scam. His photograph was posted at all the refugee assistance points and the game was up - but only after eight trips netting him around 1,600 dollars.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, is providing aid as part of a repatriation process for those eager to come home after years in exile. The agency is aware that some refugees are abusing the system, and has launched a campaign to catch the cheats.

UNHCR statistics reveal that while more than 1,614,000 refugees have returned to Afghanistan since the collapse of the Taleban regime last December, more than half have left again.

“One hundred families a day are returning from Pakistan - but some of them are turning around and going straight back there,” said Fareed Ahmad Karimi, head of the UNHCR regional office at the border post of Speen Boldak.

“These are people with money worries, who are going to Pakistan and coming back just to get our aid. It is very difficult to get rid of them.”

Habib, an Afghan refugee living in Akore camp near Peshawar in Pakistan, claims to have collected UN assistance more than 20 times. However, he has since been rumbled at the checkpoints by control teams who take photographs of all the refugees as they come in.

There has also been a rush of very large Afghan “families” - groups of dishonest individuals trying to con UNHCR out of cash - after a recent change in the aid payment structure. Before, the most money a household could hope to collect was 100 dollars, but now each family member gets 20. “We have so far turned back 400 dishonest ‘families’,” said Naseer Jan, UNHCR field officer in Pol Charkhi.

Some unscrupulous refugees bring with them goods from Pakistan and sell them in Kabul at inflated prices. Others do a brisk trade in their allocation of international aid. “From them, we can buy 100 kg of wheat donated by UNHCR for around 800 Pakistani rupees - 13 dollars - while the two plastic sheets that the refugees are given go for ten dollars,” said local Fareed Kahn.

Around 50 refugees, having been refused entry to Pol Charki, mill around the UNHCR office, complaining that they have never tried to enter Afghanistan before. Sher Agha, formerly of the Hareepor camp 100 km into Pakistan, said, “This is cruelty. They say that I have come here many times, but I have not,” he said.

UNHCR says some bogus returnees are cheating the authorities by using fake refugee papers, which they can pick up from a number of Pakistani cities.

“The refugees will go to Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar for forms then fake stamps and forge signatures on them to get extra handouts,” said Fazil Haq, a UNHCR team leader in Pol Charkhi. “But we have sample signatures of 150 of our workers in Pakistan. Using these, we can easily spot a counterfeit form by checking for forged names.”

Danish Karokhel is an IWPR reporter in Kabul

Pakistan, Afghanistan
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