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Cablegate: Consular Operations in a State Sponsor of Terrorism -

VZCZCXRO3139
OO RUEHTRO
DE RUEHDM #0796/01 2190646
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 070646Z AUG 07 ZFR ZFR
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3976
INFO RUEHAM/AMEMBASSY AMMAN 7009
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 3352
RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT 4691
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0513
RUEHYN/AMEMBASSY SANAA 0283
RUEHKU/AMEMBASSY KUWAIT 1249
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 5249
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 0265
RUEHTV/AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV 1922
RUEHJM/AMCONSUL JERUSALEM 1451
RUEHMS/AMEMBASSY MUSCAT 0057
RUEHMK/AMEMBASSY MANAMA 0597
RUEHAD/AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI 1312
RUEHDI/AMCONSUL DUBAI 0126
RUEHDO/AMEMBASSY DOHA 0425
RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS 2886
RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS 0390
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT 0576
RUEHCL/AMCONSUL CASABLANCA 0866
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 0009
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH 7820
RUEHJI/AMCONSUL JEDDAH 2668
RUEHTH/AMEMBASSY ATHENS 0289
RUEHPNH/NVC PORTSMOUTH 6395
RUEAHLC/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHINGTON DC
RUCNFB/DIR FBI WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 07 DAMASCUS 000796

SIPDIS

ATHENS FOR DHS
DEPT FOR INL/HSTC
DEPT PASS NPC PORTSMOUTH

SENSITIVE, SIPDIS

E.O. 12958
TAGS: ASEC CVIS CPAS KFRD KCRM SY IZ IR
SUBJECT: CONSULAR OPERATIONS IN A STATE SPONSOR OF TERRORISM -
EMBASSY DAMASCUS

DAMASCUS 00000796 001.2 OF 007

REFS:

A) 06 DAMASCUS 5454
B) DAMASCUS 001
C) DAMASCUS 005
D) DAMASCUS 012
E) DAMASCUS 765
F) DAMASCUS 306
G) DAMASCUS 617
H) DAMASCUS 773
I) DAMASCUS 272
J) 06 DAMASCUS 3193
K) DAMASCUS 274

ZFR ZFR TELEGRAM
TELEGRAM TRANSMITTED WITH ERRORS
TELEGRAM RETRANSMITTED CORRECTLY WITH NEW NUMBERS
ZFR ZFR TELEGRAM


DAMASCUS 00000796 002 OF 007


blood relatives. The control mechanism for this consent is the
Immigration Service's exit stamp, which is obtained in advance at an
Immigration Office.

6. (SBU) For AmCit women married to Syrians who have only entered
Syria within the previous two weeks, the exit stamp is not
necessary. However, the woman's husband can place a travel ban on
her. Sometimes we race the clock to get the woman out of Syria
before the travel ban goes into effect.

7. (SBU) In an interesting twist, we had three LPR wives, with or
without status, abandoned by their AmCit husbands with their AmCit
children last fall. Feeling that they could use the border
difficulties to their advantage, each husband had dropped off his
wife and children and either made off with their documents or
significantly mutilated them. We were able to return two of the
three women to the US with their AmCit children on repatriation
loans (to accompany the minor), and even provided a returning
residency visa (SB-1) for one who had lost her status because her
husband told her he would kill her if she returned to the States.
The third woman had funds and eventually returned on her own. In
each case, we found legal aid information on the internet so that
they could get pro bono help upon arrival. (See ref D.)

8. (SBU) In custody cases, the age at which a child must be returned
from the mother's custody to the father's is notionally according to
Shari'aa law, but in practice the ages applied in Syria actually
favor the mother more than in neighboring countries. Girls return
to their father at age 15, boys at age 13. The theory is that after
those ages, children need the stronger discipline provided by their
fathers. Although a mother may have custody of her children, she
cannot take them out of Syria, however, without the written consent
of the father or of one of his male blood relatives. In a case
where the father is deceased, normal travel can be very complicated
for children whose mother has little contact with her in-laws.

9. (SBU) In exceptional circumstances, such as extreme abuse by the
father, a 16-year old boy can be asked if he wants to go back to his
mother. However, a 16-year old girl would not be allowed to
choose.

10. (SBU) Fortunately, we have had relatively few death cases in
recent years. Under Islamic practice and Syrian law, burial must
take place within three days of death, but customarily, it actually
takes place within one day. That means that no cremation facilities
are available for non-Moslems and cold storage facilities are
extremely limited.

11. (SBU) Due to the number of AmCits of dual nationality who are
"persons of interest," we have frequent "hits" in the ACS plus
system for U.S. Marshall's warrants. For each hit, we must
coordinate with the RSO to contact U.S. law enforcement quickly to
see if there is an active warrant that would prevent issuance of a
service, or if we are only supposed to provide information on the
AmCit's travel plans. There is no extradition agreement between
Syria and the US.

12. (SBU) Having a ticket to travel is not enough to be able to
leave Syria. AmCits occasionally are stopped at Immigration on
their way out of Syria and asked to visit a branch of police

DAMASCUS 00000796 003 OF 007


intelligence for questioning. We tell AmCits to let us know before
they go in to the office, and after they come out -- just in case
they are detained. The questioning AmCits are subjected to can run
the gamut from matters regarding religious affiliation (i.e. it is
illegal to be a Jehovah's witness in Syria), to issues resulting
from unserved military service. Syrian citizenship is indelible and
passes via the male line without regard to emigration or
naturalization elsewhere. At times, grandparents have registered
their grandchildren as Syrian, unbeknownst to the grandchildren or
their parents. When a teenage male AmCit who is used to traveling
in and out of Syria without incident enters Syria for the first time
after age 18, he is stopped for having failed to complete the
mandatory military service.

13. (SBU) Much as in the Libyan model of children born in the U.S.
who were afraid to claim their citizenship because of host country
harassment, we are starting to see young men from Iraq and Iran
making their first claims for US passports at our Post. See Ref E.

----------------------
Nonimmigrant Visa Unit
----------------------

14. (SBU) In accordance with Section 306 of the Enhanced Border
Security and Visa Reform Act of 2002, the NIV unit sends Security
Advisory Opinions (SAOs) for all adult citizens of Syria (both male
and female), and most long-term residents of Syria of other
nationalities. As a result, the sole full-time NIV officer spends
about two hours each day checking, processing, and following up on
SAOs. Likewise, the Consular Section as a whole must constantly
review SAO procedures.

15. (SBU) Another consequence of operations in a State Sponsor of
Terrorism is the need to ensure applicants' compliance with National
Security Entry and Exit Registration System (NSEERS) requirements,
especially obtaining an exit stamp from CBP before leaving the US.
Testimony of applicants, consultations by ConOffs with DHS, and the
experiences of several locally employed staff (LES) have shown that
these stamps can be difficult to obtain, often because the offices
that provide them have moved, have improper signage, are located in
out-of-the-way parts of airports, or keep odd hours. To improve
compliance, the NIV unit researched the current locations of NSEERS
offices in major airports, and created an English- and
Arabic-language handout, which was distributed throughout NEA. The
English link is damascus.usembassy.gov/special-registration.h tml.
(See ref F.) Furthermore, the Consular Section, with the help of
summer hires, has produced its own in-house video to explain
fingerprinting, 214B and NSEERS to our captive waiting room audience
in English and Arabic. Both the script and the video are available
by writing to nivdamascus@state.gov.

16. (SBU) NIV, as the other units, is affected by the influx of
Iraqis into Syria. For July 2007, over ten percent of our NIV case
load was Iraqi nationals, many of whom had to acquire new passports
just to apply for NIVs. The majority did not overcome 214B, as
their status in Syria is only temporary.

---------------
IMMIGRANT VISAS
---------------

DAMASCUS 00000796 004 OF 007

17. (SBU) The Immigrant Visa Unit at Embassy Damascus is the only
immigrant visa unit in a U.S. Embassy in a country designated as a
State Sponsor of Terrorism by the United States Department of State.
For calendar year 2006, the IV section issued more than 1700
immigrant visas and expects that number to increase in 2007 with the
additional Iraqi caseload. As it becomes increasingly difficult for
Iraqi citizens to enter Jordan and Egypt, we are receiving more
requests for IV file transfers from applicants with files at those
posts.

18. (SBU) Iraqi applicants find Syria in general a convenient place
to process their visas. The Syrian government is still recognizing
the Iraqi S passport and Iraqis are not required to hold any Syrian
visas prior to arrival. Also, the cost of living in Syria is
significantly cheaper than in any neighboring country.

19. (SBU) The IV Unit also processes Visa 92 and Visa 93 for Iraqis,
Somalis and Sudanese, and has handled more than three hundred
inquiries in the last six months in person, e-mail, and on the
telephone from Iraqis interested in refugee status in the United
States.

20. (SBU) Processing immigrant visas in Syria for Syrian applicants
can also be difficult. The Syrian Government is often reluctant or
completely uncooperative in verifying Syrian civil documents such as
marriage, divorce and death certificates. This lack of cooperation
with civil authorities makes it very difficult for us to investigate
one of the most popular types of immigrant visa fraud in Syria: the
sham marriage a.k.a. the sham divorce. It is quite common for a
Syrian male never to divorce his Syrian wife, yet go to the United
States, marry an American Citizen woman, obtain American citizenship
through the marriage to the American citizen, divorce the American
citizen and then petition for the Syrian wife and children in Syria
to immigrate to the United States.

21. (SBU) Additionally, because of Syria's designation as a State
Sponsor of Terrorism, Syrian IV applicants receive more scrutiny in
the SAO process. All beneficiaries of K1 and K3 visa applications
are required to have a Visas Condor and many Syrian applicants must
clear additional SAOs prior to issuance. This extra processing
requires time and means that many families decide that the wife and
children will travel to the United States and the husband or older
sons will wait in Syria pending clearances. Sometimes these
clearances can take more than a year and in certain cases, the
family never receives an approval or a firm denial.

22. (SBU) Another quirk of Immigrant Visa processing in Syria is
that there are very few Diversity Visas awarded to Syrians. This is
likely due to a reluctance of the average Syrian to apply for a
Diversity Visa on the internet, which is closely monitored and
controlled by the Syrian government. Internet penetration is also
surprisingly low.

23. (SBU) Due to the increasing difficulty that Iraqis are
experiencing to enter Jordan, about 30 of the Special Immigrant
Visas (SIVs) for Iraqi Translators and Interpreters are scheduled to
be sent from NVC to Damascus in FY-2007. We anticipate that this
number will increase as other applicants are unable to enter Jordan.
(Note: Approximately 480 SIV files are currently scheduled to be

DAMASCUS 00000796 005 OF 007


sent to Embassy Amman.)

---------------------
FRAUD PREVENTION UNIT
---------------------

24. (SBU) The SARG requires that all FPU Damascus inquiries for
document verification go through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(MFA) and since it can take months to receive responses, FPU is
obliged to send multiple diplomatic notes for follow-up. It is
impossible to liaise directly with Immigration, the Police and other
SARG entities with any regularity. Post has learned to rely heavily
on local FPU meetings with consular colleagues from other foreign
missions in Damascus and Amman to compare trends, share fraudulent
documents and support each other while working in this inhospitable
environment.

25. (SBU) The majority of FPU's workload deals with IV cases,
specifically Iraqi cases. While Embassy Damascus is not an Iraqi
processing post, the number of Iraqi cases has risen significantly
due to transfer cases from Amman and Cairo. FPU works closely with
the IV unit to ensure that all Iraqi documents are reviewed by the
FPU officer or LES. Verification of Iraqi documents is extremely
difficult. (See ref G.) Over the last six months, the FPU unit has
discovered several counterfeit/altered S series passports, one H
series passport and one fake G series passport. (See ref H.)

26. (SBU) No one document, not even a G passport, stands alone but
rather is compared with other documents received from the applicant.
One possible fraud indicator is when documents do not look their
age when compared to other identity documents presented. For
example, when reviewing the case of a young girl and looking
specifically at her passport, identity card and citizen certificate,
the identity card looked perfect with no glaring errors except that
it looked older than the passport and citizen certificate which were
all issued five years before the identity documents.

27. (SBU) FPU has had difficulty receiving reliable confirmation
from the Iraqi Embassy in Damascus on fraudulent or altered
documents. It is not uncommon for the Consular section at the Iraqi
Embassy to confirm that a document is fraudulent and then recant
their decision after speaking with the applicant. As a result, the
FPU has had to develop a significant subspecialty in Iraqi
documents.

28. (SBU) Frequently, Iraqi IV beneficiaries cannot describe the
most basic events surrounding his/her engagement or marriage. The
majority of Iraqi cases we see are not the traditionally arranged
marriages that occur in Syrian cases - where the applicant knows
about the petitioner's family, knows the dates of their first
meeting, engagement and marriage; or is even from the same family -
nor are they love matches which happened over a course of time.
This makes for a difficult interview because, when questioned, the
applicant either answers "I don't know" or gives very vague answers.


29. (SBU) Although ACS fraud is limited, we have had several cases
in the past year of Iraqis filing for their own children with
fraudulent Syrian birth certificates in order to be able to be
processed quickly in Syria, instead of having the file sent to

DAMASCUS 00000796 006 OF 007


30. (SBU) Hitting the open road to verify employment or
relationships in Syria is impossible. FPU is able to conduct
investigations in Damascus on a very limited basis. In the
restrictive environment in which we work, our every move is of
interest to Syrian security services. Our LES are questioned
regularly, making it unreasonable to put them more in danger by
sending them out for field investigations.

-----------------------------------------
AMERICAN CITIZEN/LPR/REFUGEE WALK-IN HOUR
-----------------------------------------

31. (SBU) Damascus holds American Citizen Walk-In Hour four days a
week. During Walk-In Hour, American citizens, Legal Permanent
Residents of the United States, bearers of Department of Homeland
Security Travel Documents, and Iraqi Immigrant Visa Applicants are
allowed time to ask immigration questions, file petitions, and
request file transfers. On average, we provide services in this
category to 60-80 people per week, accounting for at least 12
officer hours.

32. (SBU) The most frequently asked questions during American
Citizen Walk-In hour deal with petition filing and pending immigrant
visa applications. However, in the number two spot are Iraqis
requesting that their immigrant petition be transferred from Embassy
Amman or Embassy Cairo to Embassy Damascus.

33. (SBU) We also receive a substantial number of inquiries
regarding expired green cards or green cards which are no longer
valid because the bearer has been outside the United States for
longer than a year. We receive many of these inquiries from Iraqis
with either refugee status in the United States or with LPR status
who returned to Iraq in 2003 and 2004 and now want to return to the
United States. In most cases, their travel documents expired long
ago and they have made no prior effort to renew them or address the
issue. The individuals generally present stories that are both
vague and inconsistent as to the reason they did not return to the
United States. In certain limited cases, we can process the
individual for a Returning Resident visa (SB-1). However, to the
frustration of both the Consular Officer and the Iraqi, in many
other cases there is nothing that can be done to return them to the
United States. We are left only to give them directions to the
already overburdened local office of the United National High
Commission on Refugees.

34. (SBU) During Walk-In Hour we also receive many questions from
Iraqis inquiring about the possibility of obtaining a visa, any
visa, to the United States. Unfortunately, most of these people are
qualified neither for a nonimmigrant visa nor for an immigrant visa
and our only option again is to refer them to the UNHCR. However, at

DAMASCUS 00000796 007 OF 007


this point there are 110,000 Iraqis registered with the UNHCR in
Damascus and most Iraqis know obtaining refugee resettlement is
unlikely for them. If the applicant has worked for the U.S.
government or a contractor of the US government in Iraq, we provide
them with information on refquestions@wrapsnet.org and, if
appropriate, the information on self-petitioning for a Special
Immigrant Visa (SIV) as an Iraqi translator/interpreter. We have
this information linked on our website at:
http://syria.usembassy.gov/refugee.html and
http://syria.usembassy.gov/siv.html.


----------
CONCLUSION
----------

35. (SBU) The operational realities of having severely limited
contact with the host government impacts everything we do. Even our
ability to plan for emergencies is affected by the fact that
official Americans must apply for their Syrian visas only in
Washington and invariably face lengthy waits for issuance. Our
hurdles with the SARG and our difficulties with our growing Iraqi
applicant pool make consular work in Damascus both challenging and
rewarding.

CORBIN

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