Colombia: UNHCR issues asylum fraud warning
Our office in Bogota is warning Colombians that people pretending to work for, or be associated with, UNHCR are running an illegal migration scheme for Colombians wishing to leave the country.
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. 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. Governments in Europe - like elsewhere in the world - investigate all asylum claims in depth, and bogus asylum seekers are sent back to their country of origin. These fraudulent organisations 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 - their credibility may be jeopardised if they are found to be lying or associated with bogus organisations.
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.
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.
As a general rule, UNHCR only helps refugees and asylum seekers when they are already outside their country of origin. In some cases, like in Colombia, UNHCR also works on behalf of people who are internally displaced inside their own country, but it does not facilitate their leaving the country.
We do not know how many people have been defrauded under this scheme. We have alerted the Colombian authorities and have requested an investigation into the matter.