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Cablegate: Fraud Summary - Asmara

VZCZCXRO1911
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHAE #0346/01 1901410
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 081410Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASMARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9772
RUEHPNH/NVC PORTSMOUTH NH 0316
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUEHAD/AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI 0146
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 0447
RUEHSA/AMEMBASSY PRETORIA 1434
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH 1301
RUEHGA/AMCONSUL CALGARY 0023
RUEHTN/AMCONSUL CAPE TOWN 0043
RUEHDE/AMCONSUL DUBAI 0105
RUEHFT/AMCONSUL FRANKFURT 1333
RUEHMIL/AMCONSUL MILAN 0035
RUEHNP/AMCONSUL NAPLES 0016
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO 0015

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 ASMARA 000346

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/CA, AF/E, CA/FPP, CA/EX
PASS TO INL/HSTC
POSTS FOR FRAUD PREVENTION MANAGERS
FRANKFURT FOR RCO
DEPT PASS TO KCC WILLIAMSBURG KY

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

REF: A. Asmara 204 B. 07 Asmara 967 C. 07 STATE 171211

ASMARA 00000346 001.2 OF 005


1. The following is a summary of fraud conditions experienced during
the April to June 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. Basic commodities such as diesel fuel and
flour are strictly rationed and are sometimes unavailable due to
restrictions on imports and the government's monopoly on possessing
hard currency. Propane, the basic cooking fuel, has been
sporadically available for months, leading to the use of also scarce
kerosene and charcoal for heating food. President Isaias Afwerki
recently stated that white bread and pasta are "luxuries." 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 officially published age cutoff is 40, in practice the term of
national service currently extends up to 54. National service,
while supposedly of a set duration, currently has no end date and
many individuals have been forced to work in national service for
over 13 years. Because of this, many parents seek any avenue to get
their children out of the country prior to being conscripted, even
at the risk of their own arrests. 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.

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

ASMARA 00000346 002.2 OF 005


-----------------

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.

------------------
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 passport fraud during the reporting
period. Asmara has traditionally been considered to be a low fraud
post for ACS and passports.

Post notes a doubling of CRBA and passport applications during the
reporting period compared to the same period in 2007. Conoff's
inquiries indicate the awareness level of the Diaspora regarding
consular services has increased, as well as the desire for
non-resident fathers to have their Amcit children's U.S. passport
in-hand should the economic or military situation in Eritrea
deteriorate.

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.

------------------------
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

ASMARA 00000346 003.2 OF 005


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, and 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 cosular 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
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

ASMARA 00000346 004.2 OF 005


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. The GSE provided no indication of 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.

Post recently received evidence that the GSE provides a certificate
to Eritrean asylees living overseas to allow them entry/exit without
an Eritrean entrance stamp being placed in their passport. The
certificate is written only in Tigrinya, is stamped for entrance and
exit, and provides proof of the individual's payment of the 2%
Diaspora income tax. The GSE's desperate lack of hard currency is
the government's likely reason for facilitating such travel. Post
will report more information on regarding asylee travel to Eritrea
septel.

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
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 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.

--------------------------------------
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

ASMARA 00000346 005.2 OF 005


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. Prior to
reopening 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 unable to make their
scheduled visits in either June 2007 or April 2008. 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
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 online courses
and on-the-job learning opportunities.
MCINTYRE

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