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Cablegate: Fraud Summary - Asmara

VZCZCXRO9950
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHAE #0480/01 2760845
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 020845Z OCT 08 VOL ZDK DUE NUMEROUS SVCS
FM AMEMBASSY ASMARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9923
RUEHPNH/NVC PORTSMOUTH NH 0321
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUEHAD/AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI 0154
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 0011
RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN 0069
RUEHBS/AMEMBASSY BRUSSELS 0229
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 0456
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 0214
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA 0199
RUEHSA/AMEMBASSY PRETORIA 1439
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH 1308
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME 1763
RUEHYN/AMEMBASSY SANAA 1852
RUEHSM/AMEMBASSY STOCKHOLM 0022
RUEHGA/AMCONSUL CALGARY 0028
RUEHTN/AMCONSUL CAPE TOWN 0048
RUEHDE/AMCONSUL DUBAI 0113
RUEHFT/AMCONSUL FRANKFURT 1345
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 0003
RUEHMIL/AMCONSUL MILAN 0040
RUEHNP/AMCONSUL NAPLES 0021
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO 0020

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 07 ASMARA 000480

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

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

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

REFS: A. Asmara 000346, B. Asmara 000204, C. 07 STATE 171211

ASMARA 00000480 001.4 OF 007


1. (U) The following is a summary of fraud conditions in Asmara
from April to September 2008. 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 led
to increasing scarcity of basic goods and impoverishment of the
people. Employment prospects for the unemployed are virtually
non-existent. Of those employed, many work as draftees in the
Eritrean national service which provides wa'e# barely a ste !bove
slave labor; $30 to $40 per month. Basic commodities such as pasta
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, was unavailable for
several weeks, leading to the use of kerosene (which was also
unavailable for several weeks) 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 mil)t!ry training. W(ile the
officially published maximum age is 40, in practice the term of
national service currently extends up to 54 for men and 47 for
women. National service was originally intended to be only 18
months, but currently has no end date; many individuals have been
forced to work in national service for over a decade. The GSE
generally does not provide passports or exit visas to Eritreans who
are not released from national service. For these reasons, 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 (a# continued li-i$ed issuances for extreme
humanitarian cases, adoptions, and for travel 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 processing Eritrean applicants. Post anticipates
remaining closed for visa services for the immediate future, but
continues to provide the full array of American Citizen Services.

Eritrea has historically been considered a low to medium fraud
country, with strong cultural inhibitions against fraudulent
activities. Due to deteriorating country conditions, however,
Asmara is considered a medium fraud post, with potential to become

ASMARA 00000480 002.4 OF 007


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. The
sole instance of fraud was misrepresentation during an interview
by an LES sent to the U.S. by the Embassy for training. Asmara
is 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 received information during the reporting period that dozens of
Eritreans purchased Turkish visas through the Turkish Embassy in
Sana'a. Although most of these visa recipients were reportedly
using Turkey as a transit point for European Union (EU) countries,
consular officers adjudicating NIVs for Eritreans should not
consider visas to Turkey issued at the Turkish Embassy in Sana'a
since May 2008 as an indication of legitimate international travel.

Post also received reliable reports of at least 5 Eritreans who use
false French or Belgian passports purchased in Dubai for travel from
Asmara to the EU, where they claimed asylum upon arrival.

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

Post is not currently issuing IVs in significant numbers and has not
experienced fraud during the reporting period. Asmara is 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 wedding to file the petition and then
maintains little or no contact until documentation is requested.
Also, all weddings in Eritrea are grand affairs, with even
impoverished families having elaborate ceremonies recorded on video.
Any wedding not celebrated 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.

Forty percent of high school matriculation exam results for DV
applicants sent to Asmara from other posts were fraudulent during
the reporting period (see para 12). Asmara is considered to be a
medium fraud post for DVs.

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

ASMARA 00000480 003.4 OF 007


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

Post has experienced no cases of passport fraud during the reporting
period. Asmara is 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 within the Eritrean diaspora
regarding consular services hac increased. Alco, non-resident
fathers wish 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 passport/CRBA fraud
indicators, and expects to see a future increase in fraudulent
activity. Eritrea's resident Amcit community is small and mostly
static. The majority of passport renewals are for individuals known
by consular staff. For CRBA applicants of recently born babies, the
mother's hospital stay certificate is routinely requested and
verified with the hospital as needed. DNA is routinely requested
for children born out of wedlock to non-resident fathers and first
time applications for older children.

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

Post is currently accepting petitions for adoption cases of Eritrean
children. There have been few adoption cases during the reporting
period. Asmara is considered to be a medium fraud post for
adoptions.

Posd received one inquiry during the reporting period requesting a
B1/B2 visa for a young Eritrean child to visit his brother in the
U.S. Conoff found that the child's brother was adopted by an
American family, and that the child for whom travel was requested
was legally adopted by the same family in Eritrea. Conoff's
investigation concluded the family was trying to circumvent the USG
adoption process. It also cannot be ruled out that the children's
birth mother received payment to give up her children. The family
informed Conoff they will file an adoption petition for the child in
the U.S.

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. The usual reasons for this type
of fraud are to improve the economic condition of the child or to
avoid national service. Eridrean adoptions almost always take place
within the family, and the courts readily grant them. The Eritrean
adoption is then used as the basis for a U.S. adoption case.

Although the High Court or the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare
reviews all adoption cases, the corrupt legal system in Eritrea
provides fraud opportunities for those with high-level GSE
connections.

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

Post uses DNA testing primarily for out-of-wedlock births and for

ASMARA 00000480 004.2 OF 007


first-time citizenship applications for older children; there were
no negative DNA results during the reporting period. 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
procecsing Eritrean IFs 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 Saho and Nara, with which the consular section has little or
no interaction.

----------------------
9. (SBU) ASYLUM FRAUD
----------------------
Post is not currently issuing Visas 92#9# in significa&t&numbers and
has not experienced fraud during the reporting period. Asmara is
considered a low fraud post for visas 92/93.

Family members of some GSE officials are known to have applied for
asylum in the U.S. The GSE official is then listed as a family
member for reunion. Although Conoff understands that doubts
regarding the asylum case are not pertinent to adjudicating Visas 92
cases, post provides DHS with derogatory information regarding the
asilee's family belationships in Eritrea if necessary.

--------------------------
10. (SBU) ALIEN SMUGGLING
--------------------------
Eritrea is a source country for illegal travelers, but there are no
indications of an organized system designed to facilitate travel to
the U.S. Most smuggling is geared toward getting people out of
Eritrea; subsequent attempts to travel to the U.S. originate in
third countries. Eritrean men under 54 and unmarried women under 47
(with some exceptions) generally cannot obtain passports or exit
visas, but the specific rules are opaque and change frequently
without notice. Post estimates 2,000 Eritreans illegally cross the
Sudanese and Ethiopian borders each month, with smugglers charging
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.

ApproxQmQtely 5,000 So
aQi refugees reside in a camp near Massawa.
A UNHCR representative noted that an undefined number of Somalis in
the camp have "moved on" to other countries. A smaller camp of less
than 100 Sudanese refugees is scheduled to be closed by UNHCR in the
near future.

-------------------------------------------
11. (SBU) DS CRIMINAL FRAUD INVESTIGATIONS
-------------------------------------------
Conoff and RSO have had reduced opportunities to collaborate on
fraudgigvestigations gug to the closure of the visa section, but ACS
case hits are immediately shared and discussed. RSO responds to

ASMARA 00000480 005.2 OF 007


consular requests expeditiously.

--------------------------------------
12. (SBU) HOST COUNTRY PASSPORTS,
IDENTITY DOCUMENTS, AND CIVIL REGISTRY
--------------------------------------
The Eritrean passport has no identifiable security features. Bio
data is hand-written, physical photographs are used, and the
lamination is of extremely poor quality. In addition, an EritQeQn
passport is
Somali, Sudanese, Bedouins from the Arabian peninsula, and other
non-Eritreans traveling on Eritrean tourist and diplomatic
passports. There are reports that the GSE may issue machine
readable passports in 2009, but these reports have not been
corroborated. If the GSE issues machine readable passports, it is
likely the old passport will continue to be valid, given the lack of
GSE capacity to replace them. GSE consular officials have rebuffed
requests from Conoff to discuss the matter.

The Eritrean national ID card is the only document proving !r!trean
natio!a!ity, but it too is hand-written (only in Tigrinya and
Arabic, not English), poorly laminated, and easily altered.

A passport recently issued by the Eritrean embassy in Khartoum may
be a sign that the applicant has left Eritrea in violation of
Eritrean immigration law, and therefore may have questionable ties
to Eritrea. The GSE issues passports to Eritrean naQinals living
aQrad, even if they departed illegally. Eritrean passports issued
in Khartoum cost $50, and the applicant usually signs a document
admitting to having left Eritrea illegally. Reports indicate the
Eritrean embassy in Khartoum maintains a list of persons the GSE
deems hostile to the regime, and that Sudanese authorities have
arrested and deported these individuals at the request of the
Embassy. Post speculates the government facilitates passport
issuance abroad in hopes that these emigrants will remit hard
currency after settlement in wealthier countries.

Post 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 iQ
Qhe governments
asylees back to Eritrea.

Adjudicating officers using completion of Eritrean National Service
as a sign of ties to Eritrea should be aware of reliable reports
that a source in Dubai supplies 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 does not provide verification of these
certificates.

Officially issued birth and marriage certificates are available for
sale for $330 from the Asmara (and presumably other) Eritrean
municipalities. eTee GSE recentle eushed 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

ASMARA 00000480 006.2 OF 007


contained on official birth and marriage certificates can be
completely altered as the payer desires.

On a poQiQive note, the
computerized birth, marriage, and divorce 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
indicates the GSE's willingness to curb the falsification of legal
documents.

--------------------------------------------- ----------
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, but
because many legitimately issued governmental documents are suspect,
this cooperation is of limited use. School records are well kept
and historically local schools have cooperated in verifying these
documents. Post believes that if we were to d ntify organiz!d!
fraud rings that the local authorities would take an interest, but
to date, post has seen no evidence indicating t(e existence o& $his
type of organized activity.

--------------------------------------
14. (SBU) AREAS OF PARTICULAR CONCERN
--------------------------------------
The increasing desperation of Eritreans to leave the country so far
has not led to a significant increase in fraud indicators, contrary
to what we would expect. Post remains vigilant in looking for fraud
indicators, especially in 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.

Post believes we would experience a large number of NIV applicants
if the consular section reopened for visa services. The usual
walk-in application process would not be able to accommodate the
volume. In this case, Post would employ the online NIV appointment
system, an active public diplomacy program, and increased local
guard force presence to avoid the common fraud opportunities
associated with queuing.

The GSE's restrictive pol)c)es continued $o hamper consular
operations. Although the Harris technicians were issued visas after
three years of absence from Asmara, some applications for other TDY
visas were denied or ignored. GSE restrictions on diplomatic travel
make it unlikely that an American citizen could rely on emergency
consular assistance outside of the capital. Consular notification
and access to incarcerated American citizens was not provided for
three known arrest cases during the reporting period.

--------------------------------
15. (SBU) STAFFING AND TRAINING
--------------------------------
Brian Shelbourn - Consular Officer
Anti-fraud conference, Accra, April 2007

Tsehainesh Yacob - Consular Assistant
Senior FSN Fraud Prevention Training - September 2002

Tsegereda Tekle - Visa Assistant

ASMARA 00000480 007.2 OF 007


No formal fraud prevention training

The section remains at a low staffing level and will remain so until
the section fully opens for visa services. Training options are
currently limited to those availa"l% inside Eritr%a. The Mission's
restrictions on off-shore training, currently in place due to the
number of LES not returning from training in the U.S., limits our
staff to online courses and on-the-job learning opportunities.
MCMULLEN

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