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Cablegate: Fraud Summary - Asmara

VZCZCXRO7582
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHAE #0204/01 1001436
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 091436Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASMARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9593
RUEHPNH/NVC PORTSMOUTH NH 0310
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUEHAD/AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI 0140
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 0438
RUEHSA/AMEMBASSY PRETORIA 1425
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH 1290
RUEHGA/AMCONSUL CALGARY 0017
RUEHTN/AMCONSUL CAPE TOWN 0037
RUEHDE/AMCONSUL DUBAI 0099
RUEHFT/AMCONSUL FRANKFURT 1323
RUEHMIL/AMCONSUL MILAN 0029
RUEHNP/AMCONSUL NAPLES 0010
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO 0009

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 06 ASMARA 000204

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/CA, AF/E, CA/FPP, CA/EX

DEPT PASS TO INL/HSTC

DEPT PASS TO KCC WILLIAMSBURG KY

POSTS FOR FRAUD PREVENTION MANAGERS

FRANKFURT FOR RCO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CVIS KFRD CPAS CMGT ASEC ER
SUBJECT: FRAUD SUMMARY - ASMARA

REFS: A. 07 ASMARA 000967,

B. 07 ASMARA 000815,
C. 07 STATE 171211

ASMARA 00000204 001.2 OF 006


1. The following is a summary of fraud conditions experienced during
the January to March 2008 period. Point of contact is Conoff Brian
Shelbourn, shelbournbl@state.gov, 291-1-12-00-04.

----------------------------
2. (SBU) COUNTRY CONDITIONS
----------------------------

The Government of the State of Eritrea's (GSE) economic policies
continue to cause scarcity of goods and impoverishment of the
people. Employment prospects are virtually non-existent. Of those
employed, many work as draftees in the Eritrean national service
which provides wages barely a step above slave labor, approximately
$30 and $40 per month. Commodities such as cooking gas, diesel
fuel, sugar, and lentils are strictly rationed and are sometimes
unavailable due to restrictions on imports and the government's
holding of hard currency. In 2007 Eritrea's inflation rate was
25.6% and per capita GDP was only $220. The GSE continues to press
large numbers of citizens into long, undefined periods of military
service. Disenchantment continues to build, especially among the
young. This has led to a massive illegal exodus across the borders
of Sudan and Ethiopia, with as many as 2,000 leaving Eritrea
illegally each month.

Mandatory national service begins at the age of 17 for both boys and
girls, and includes intensive military training. For males, while
the official end date is the age of 40, in practice there is no end
date to the term of national service; in some cases, individuals
have been working in the national service for over 13 years.
Because of this, many parents seek any avenue to get their children
out of the country prior to be conscripted, even at the risk of
their own arrest. Those unable to obtain permission to leave
Eritrea often illegally flee across the border to either Sudan or
Ethiopia to escape the harsh conditions. Many people with passports
leave legally and do not return. The desperation to leave Eritrea
is felt at all levels of society.

The consular section in Asmara has been closed to most visa services
since January 2007, but has continued limited issuances for extreme
humanitarian cases and those clearly in USG interests. The section
provides document intake services for Immigrant and Diversity visas,
transfers cases to other posts upon request, and provides document
verification services to other U.S. Embassies which process Eritrean
applicants. Post anticipates remaining closed for visa services for
the immediate future, but continues to provide the full array of
American Citizen Services.

Asmara is considered a medium fraud post, with potential to become
high as profit-motivated fraud rings learn to take advantage of a
population desperate to escape the GSE's oppressive policies.

-------------------
3. (SBU) NIV FRAUD
-------------------

Post is not currently issuing NIVs in significant numbers and has
not experienced fraud during the reporting period. Asmara has
traditionally been considered to be a medium fraud post for NIVs.

Student visas - The University of Asmara provides reliable student
record verification. Posts interviewing Eritrean students should be
aware that the University graduated its final class in 2007 and is
no longer operating. Eritrea currently has no accredited tertiary
schools. Post's F-1 validation study for 2006 issuances showed 90%

ASMARA 00000204 002.2 OF 006


of students continuing their University studies beyond the first
year. Nearly all student visas issued in Asmara in 2006 were for
students to larger, well-known institutions and/or for graduate
students.

B1/B2 visas - Post completed 2005 and 2006 validation studies during
the reporting period. The study demonstrated that applicants over
50 years old remain the group least likely to overstay, although 35%
to 50% did not return. Many of these recipients had children in the
U.S. and adjusted status while visiting, rather than go through the
petition process. Very few visas were issued to applicants aged 20
to 40, but those applicants that were issued were likely to
overstay.

R visas - Post's validation studies for 2005 and 2006 indicated a
100% overstay for all R visas issued.

-----------------
4. (SBU) IV FRAUD
-----------------

Post is not currently issuing IVs in significant numbers and has not
experienced fraud during the reporting period. Asmara has
traditionally been considered to be a medium fraud post for IVs.

Marriage fraud has always been a concern of the consular section due
to the number of arranged marriages. The fraud seen in Eritrea is
typical of many other countries, except that it is neither highly
organized nor sophisticated. It tends to be fairly easy to detect,
in that the Amcit in the relationship typically leaves Eritrea
immediately after the marriage to file the petition and then
maintains little or no contact until documentation is requested.
Also, all marriages in Eritrea are grand affairs, with even
impoverished families having elaborate ceremonies recorded on video.
Any marriage not performed with an elaborate religious service or
not having video documentation is highly suspect.

Post completed adjudication of two cases of petitioners attempting
to obtain IR2 visas for nieces or nephews. The fraudulent
applications were discovered through the use of DNA testing.

------------------
5. (SBU) DV FRAUD
------------------

Post is not currently issuing DVs in significant numbers and has not
experienced fraud during the reporting period. Asmara has
traditionally been considered to be a medium fraud post for DVs.

--------------------------------
6. (SBU) ACS AND PASSPORT FRAUD
--------------------------------

Post has experienced no cases of ACS or passport fraud during the
reporting period. Asmara has traditionally been considered to be a
low fraud post for ACS and passports.

Conoff remains vigilant in identifying increased passport/CRBA fraud
indicators, is surprised at the lack of fraud indicators in this
area, and expects to see an increase in the future. Eritrea's
resident Amcit community is small and mostly static. The majority
of passport renewals are for individuals known by consular staff.
For those applicants not known by the staff, a direct comparison of
the applicant, the current passport picture, and PIERS information
is performed to ensure identity. For CRBA applicants of recently
born babies, the mother's hospital stay certificate is routinely
requested and verified with the hospital as needed.


ASMARA 00000204 003.2 OF 006


Post is concerned about the number of CRBA applications for older
children. For out of wedlock births or for recently issued birth
certificates for older children, Conoff routinely recommends DNA
testing. To date, no negative tests or abandoned cases have been
discovered.

------------------------
7. (SBU) ADOPTION FRAUD
------------------------

Post is not currently processing adoption cases in significant
numbers and has not experienced fraud during the reporting period.

Like other types of fraud, adoption fraud is neither organized nor
sophisticated but it is becoming more prevalent. The most common
form of fraud is the classification of a child as an orphan while
the birth parents are still alive and able to support the child.
The usual reasons for adoption fraud are to improve the economic
condition of the child by having them live with a U.S. relative or
to avoid national service. Eritrean adoptions are usually only
given to family members and are easy for them to obtain. The
Eritrean adoption is then used as the basis for a U.S. adoption
case.

Although adoptions are reviewed by either the High Court or the
Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare, the corrupt legal system in
Eritrea provides fraud opportunities for those with high government
connections. Post notes a recent case where an adopting Amcit
claimed she discovered after the adoption that the parents of the
children she adopted were living high-ranking GSE officials. Post
is unable to confirm the allegation.

---------------------
8. (SBU) DNA TESTING
---------------------

Post uses DNA testing primarily for out-of-wedlock births and for
first-time citizenship applications for older children, but notes no
negative results. There are also many instances of aunts/uncles
petitioning a niece/nephew as an IR2 to provide better economic
opportunity or to avoid the harsh conditions of mandatory military
service. Post will continue to liberally recommend DNA testing for
IR2 applications if/when the visa section reopens, and advises posts
processing Eritrean IVs to consider doing the same.

Post notes Eritrean family and social structures are conducive to
obtaining reliable DNA results. Family relationships tend to be
well-defined and along American norms, and there is no influx of
refugees or migrants. Eritrea has some isolated ethnic groups, such
as the Nara, with which the consular section has little or no
interaction.

----------------------
9. (SBU) ASYLUM FRAUD
----------------------

Post is not currently issuing Visas 92/93 in significant numbers and
has not experienced fraud during the reporting period.

--------------------------
10. (SBU) ALIEN SMUGGLING
--------------------------

Eritrea is a source country for illegal travelers, but not as an
organized system designed to facilitate travel to the U.S. Eritrean
men under 40 and unmarried women under 27 generally cannot obtain
passports, but the specific rules are opaque and change frequently
and without notice. Men under 54 and women under 47, even those

ASMARA 00000204 004.2 OF 006


with passports, are routinely denied exit visas. 2,000 Eritreans
illegally cross the Sudanese and Ethiopian borders each month.
Smugglers charge between $1,000 and $7,000 for the service. The
smugglers are reportedly Eritrean military, police, or national
security officers, but there are also reports of Rashaida (a
trans-national ethnic group known to be traders) involvement. There
are neither reports nor indications of local fraud rings dedicated
to facilitating illegal travel to the U.S.

Approximately 4,800 Somali refugees reside near Massawa. A UNHCR
representative noted that an undefined number of Somalis in the camp
have "moved on" to other countries.

-------------------------------------------
11. (SBU) DS CRIMINAL FRAUD INVESTIGATIONS
-------------------------------------------

Conoff and RSO have had reduced opportunities to collaborate on
fraud investigations due to the closure of the visa section, but ACS
case hits are immediately shared and discussed. RSO responds to
consular requests expeditiously. Both RSO and Conoff look forward
to increased cooperation on investigations when the visa section
eventually reopens.

--------------------------------------
12. (SUB) HOST COUNTRY PASSPORTS,
IDENTITY DOCUMENTS, AND CIVIL REGISTRY
--------------------------------------

The Eritrean passport has no identifiable security features. Bio
data is hand-written, photographs are physically placed, and the
lamination is of extremely poor quality. In addition, an Eritrean
passport is not proof of nationality. Reports circulate of Somali,
Sudanese, and other non-Eritreans traveling on Eritrean tourist and
diplomatic passports. The Eritrean national ID card is the only
document proving nationality, but it too is hand written (only in
Tigrinya and Arabic, not English), poorly laminated, and easily
altered. Conoff noted a recently issued diplomatic passport with
the bio information on an internal page, rather than the front
cover, a small but welcome improvement. The GSE has given no
indication of further improvements to its passport and has rebuffed
requests from Conoff to discuss the matter.

A recently issued Eritrean passport in Khartoum may be a sign that
the applicant has left Eritrea illegally. The GSE freely issues
passports to Eritrean nationals living abroad, even if they depart
illegally. Post speculates the government facilitates these
passports in hopes that the departed will remit hard currency after
settlement in wealthier countries.

Posts using completion of Eritrean National Service as a sign of
ties to Eritrea should be aware of reliable reports that a source in
Dubai is supplying false national service completion certificates.
Conoff has yet to examine a false certificate, but official
certificates have no known security features and are easily forged.
The GSE will not provide verification of completion of
military/national service.


Conoff received information during the reporting period that
"official" birth and marriage certificates are available for sale
for 5,000 Nakfa ($333.33) from the Asmara (and presumably other)
municipalities. The GSE recently pushed responsibility for ensuring
the accuracy of applicant information down to the neighborhood level
official in an effort to improve accuracy and accountability.
Instead, the move created profit-making opportunities. Information
contained on official birth and marriage certificates can be
completely altered, per the request of the payer. On a positive

ASMARA 00000204 005.2 OF 006


note, the Asmara municipality has recently computerized these
records and is assigning a unique identification number to each
person. This system will eventually roll-out to all towns and
villages in Eritrea, and shows some indication of GSE willingness to
combat fraud.

--------------------------------------------- ----------
13. (SBU) COOPERATION WITH HOST GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES
--------------------------------------------- ----------

Post continues to receive no cooperation on consular issues from the
host government, other than routine document verification. However,
because even legitimately issued governmental documents are suspect,
this cooperation is of limited use. School records tend to be very
well kept and there is a history of cooperation with local schools
regarding verifying these documents. Post had a 2006 case of
suspected fraud in which the school verifiers seemed reluctant to
provide negative information due to the stature of the individual's
family. Post anticipates that if we were to identify organized
fraud rings that the local authorities would take an interest, but
to date, post has seen no evidence indicating the existence of this
type of organized smuggling in-country.

Conoff is attempting to secure an agreement for a DHS trainer to
instruct GSE immigration officers and airline staff members on U.S.
travel documents. GSE immigration officials have recently been
reluctant to meet with Emboffs, but six months ago the Director of
Immigration at Asmara International Airport expressed interest in
such training, which Conoff will continue to pursue.

--------------------------------------
14. (SBU) AREAS OF PARTICULAR CONCERN
--------------------------------------

The increasing desperation of Eritreans resulting in increasing
attempts to leave the country by any means available has not led to
an increase in fraud indicators, as would be reasonably expected.
Post remains vigilant in looking for fraud indicators, especially
for new passport and CRBA applications, and assumes that an increase
in fraudulent applications is highly likely given the current
political and economic situation in Eritrea.

A large number of NIV applicants are expected when the consular
section reopens for visa services. The usual walk-in application
process will not be able to accommodate the volume. At such time
that post reopens for visa services, Post plans to employ the online
NIV appointment system and an active public diplomacy program to
avoid the common problems with queuing in areas outside of Embassy
control.

The Harris technicians who maintain consular computer systems did
not receive visas from the GSE and were not able to make their
scheduled visit in June 2007. The technicians have pending visa
applications for the last week of April 2008, but have yet to be
issued. Although the section can function in the
short-to-intermediate term with local technicians, if this situation
is not addressed in the long run, the consular section could be
forced to shut down completely in the event of a catastrophic
failure of the computer systems.

--------------------------------
15. (SBU) STAFFING AND TRAINING
--------------------------------

The section remains short staffed during our closure and will remain
so until the section fully opens for visa services. Training
options are currently limited to those available inside Eritrea.
The Harris technicians may provide needed systems training if they

ASMARA 00000204 006.2 OF 006


receive visas. The Mission restrictions on off-shore training,
currently in place due to the number of LES not returning from
training in the U.S., currently limits our staff to on-line courses
and on-the-job learning opportunities.
MCINTYRE

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