UN refugee agency warns of migration scam by Colombian con artists

21 March 2006

People pretending to work for or to be associated with the United Nations refugee agency are running an illegal migration scheme for Colombians wishing to leave the country, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned today.

People pretending to work for or to be associated with the United Nations refugee agency are running an illegal migration scheme for Colombians wishing to leave the country, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned today.

“These unscrupulous individuals, who offer their services as immigration lawyers and appear to be operating mainly from the city of Cali in the south-west of Colombia, charge high fees in exchange for fraudulent advice on how to get refugee status abroad, mostly in Europe,” UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva.

“They promise to provide their clients with documents and advice, which, they say, will guarantee the success of their asylum claims. In some cases, they also make travel arrangements for their clients. Their promises are a scam…

“We are also worried that people who fall for such scams and may have lost all their money in the venture, could become vulnerable to other forms of illegal activities, particularly human trafficking,” she added.

Ms. Pagonis noted that Governments in Europe as elsewhere in the world investigate all asylum claims in depth, and bogus asylum seekers are sent back to their country of origin.

These fraudulent organizations can even undermine the cases of people who may otherwise have genuine grounds for claiming asylum. Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, asylum seekers must be able to demonstrate a credible and well-founded fear of persecution in their homeland and their credibility may be jeopardized if they are found to be lying or associated with bogus organizations.

“UNHCR is very concerned that its name is being used in connection with such a scam. We have issued a warning in the Colombian press to stress that these people are not connected to us, that we never charge for our services to refugees and asylum seekers, and that we do not run any programme to help people get out of Colombia,” Ms. Pagonis said. It is not known how many people have been defrauded under the scheme.

As a general rule, UNHCR only helps refugees and asylum seekers when they are already outside their country of origin. In some cases, as in Colombia, UNHCR also works on behalf of people who are internally displaced, but it does not facilitate their leaving the country.

 

♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.