Corruption at the UNHCR Refugee Camps: Can it be tackled?

Dileep Nair, Singapore Management University
Clara Portela, Singapore Management University

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The Inspector-General of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Maureen Connelly, receives two highly distressing pieces of news on the same day. Both of them relate to the UNHCR-administered Dabaad and Kakuma camps in Kenya, which have been flooded by refugees fleeing the armed conflicts in Somalia and Sudan to the point of overstretching their capacity. The first piece of news is an anonymous letter detailing rampant levels of corruption at the camps, including fraud and abuse by UNHCR officials. And the second is word from the US Ambassador in Nairobi informing her of a personal threat he has received from employees of the Kenyan refugee camps, requiring him to leave the country. The US is now threatening to withdraw its financial support to UNHCR. Connelly faces hard choices on how to proceed.

This case will familiarise students with the intricacies of managing a multicultural staff and the inevitable tensions between well-paid expatriates and more poorly remunerated locals. They would gain some understanding about the functioning of the UN and the challenges it faces. Finally, students will learn about crisis management within an international context, and possible situations to be considered in decision-making — particularly when one’s own career advancement and the image of the organisation appear to be at odds with each other.

The level of difficulty of the case study is basic. It can be used in the context of courses on management, such as organisational behavior, human resources, risk management, crisis management, cross-cultural/international management and corporate governance, or for International Relations courses such as International Organisations or Politics of Asylum.