Liberal Accuses UN Refugee Agency Of Taking Bribes

Liberal accuses UN refugee agency of taking bribes

By Michelle Grattan
The Age (Melbourne), October 3, 2009

Federal Opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone has accused some officers of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees of taking bribes.

Dr Stone said it was ''a well-known fact'' that in some UNHCR offices there was ''bribery and corruption''.

''There needs to be a very serious look at the UNHCR and how it functions across the region,'' she told the ABC.

''I am told by a number of my constituents that it in fact costs you more to bribe the UNHCR to look at your case and assess you for your asylum-seeking status than to pay a people smuggler.''

Asked about her evidence, she said: ''This was stated on television. I have people in my electorate who have experienced this problem, who bring it to me as constituents, as Hazara constituents.''

But one of Dr Stone's Liberal colleagues, Russell Broadbent, said he did not think there was corruption in the UNHCR.

Mr Broadbent, who has a long-standing interest in refugee issues, said: ''In all my dealings with them I have found them most straightforward and above board.''

Ben Farrell, Canberra spokesman for the UNHCR, said the UNHCR had a ''zero tolerance'' policy to fraud and corruption. Staff were forbidden to take any payment for services and any allegation of misconduct was considered seriously, and specific allegations should be reported to the UNHCR's independent Inspector General.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans accused Dr Stone of ''hysterical and factually incorrect'' remarks.

''The UNHCR's recommendations for the resettlement of refugees are recognised and accepted internationally, including by Australia. Indeed, many thousands of refugees were resettled in Australia under the Howard government based on the UNHCR's advice,'' Senator Evans said.

Mr Broadbent also disagreed with Dr Stone over what should be done on asylum seeker policy. She said the Government was unravelling the strong deterrence and detention policies of the former government. Asylum seekers had been reported as saying they were ''coming down now because there's been a change of government''.

Mr Broadbent said he thought the Government's policy was tough enough.

''To my view they are doing equal if not more than the Howard government was doing in regard to people smugglers. I don't think the Government should change the processes,'' he said.

A group of 62 Indonesians (including four crew) who arrived on Christmas Island last month has been returned to Indonesia, Senator Evans announced yesterday. They had not sought asylum. Four of nine Sri Lankans due to be forcibly removed have now agreed to go voluntarily.