How far can you go?

official permit to enter refugee camp

permit

This is a permit to enter a refugee camp. It was issued to a BMS World Mission filming team I was part of in 2005. We had gone specifically to film inside a particular refugee camp. No access would mean no film and we had no guarantee of getting in.

We were reliant on an Australian mission worker to facilitate our trip and he had arranged for us to meet the local government official who would, we hoped, give us a permit to enter the camp. I  remember all of us sitting in front of his large paper-strewn desk answering questions with our Australian friend  acting as interpreter. We were intent on making a good impression and being careful to say that we were not going to criticise the government in our film. It was an anxious meeting.

Part of my role with the team was looking after the finances of the trip and it crossed my mind that we might be asked for money for the permit. What would I do, and how far can you go in that instance? It wasn’t anything we had discussed before the meeting and I was conscious that whilst not paying up would have meant leaving with no film, the alternative would be to potentially harm our Australian friend’s relationship locally and also leave us party to corruption. Fortunately no money was asked for and we clearly satisfied the local official who smilingly passed over the permit and wished us well.

I’ve not thought about that time until recently when it was announced that BMS is implementing an anti-corruption policy which covers things like paying bribes and facilitating a public official in exchange for preferential treatment. I’m relieved I’ve never had to face paying a bribe so I’ve never had to face the moral dilemma. It has to be a good thing, though, that organisations like BMS are standing up to corruption and prepared to pay a price for doing so, even it should mean returning empty-handed from a filming trip. Of course, the policy allows for exceptions where there is a threat to life, limb or liberty but the only way to deal with corruption is not to be party to it and now we know how far we can go.

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