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Cablegate: Consular Operations in a State Sponsor Of

VZCZCXRO0759
OO RUEHTRO
DE RUEHDM #0797/01 2190855
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 070855Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3983
INFO RUEHAM/AMEMBASSY AMMAN 7016
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 3359
RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT 4698
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0520
RUEHYN/AMEMBASSY SANAA 0290
RUEHKU/AMEMBASSY KUWAIT 1256
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 5256
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 0272
RUEHTV/AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV 1929
RUEHJM/AMCONSUL JERUSALEM 1458
RUEHMS/AMEMBASSY MUSCAT 0064
RUEHMK/AMEMBASSY MANAMA 0604
RUEHAD/AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI 1319
RUEHDI/AMCONSUL DUBAI 0133
RUEHDO/AMEMBASSY DOHA 0432
RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS 2893
RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS 0397
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT 0583
RUEHCL/AMCONSUL CASABLANCA 0873
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 0016
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH 7827
RUEHJI/AMCONSUL JEDDAH 2675
RUEHTH/AMEMBASSY ATHENS 0296
RUEHPNH/NVC PORTSMOUTH 6402
RUEAHLC/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUCNFB/DIR FBI WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 09 DAMASCUS 000797

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 00000797 001.3 OF 009

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

NOTE: THIS TELEGRAM REPLACES DAMASCUS 796, DTG 070646Z
AUG 07 WHICH WAS TRANSMITTED WITH ERRORS.

1. (SBU) Summary: Consular Operations at Embassy
Damascus are impacted by the fact that the Syrian Arab
Republic is a State Sponsor of Terrorism, as well as
by our growing Iraqi workload. This cable focuses on
the salient features of conducting consular work in
this special environment. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Syria has been on the State Sponsor of
Terrorism list for longer then any other country,
having been named at the list's inception in 1979.
This dubious distinction presents many difficulties
for completing even basic consular functions.
Furthermore, the Consular Section provides services to
an increasing number of Iraqi applicants who present a
separate set of challenges.

-------------------------
American Citizen Services
-------------------------

3. (SBU) The lack of positive bilateral relations is
an obstacle to our American Citizen Services
operations. We have not received consular
notification of an arrest in 20 years. Each piece of
information on arrested Americans comes from the grape
vine, as often someone who knows someone who saw
someone being taken away calls us because they met
someone once who had the same problem. When
requesting consular access, we must submit a
diplomatic note, to which a reply only comes, if at
all, after weeks or months, and usually does not grant
us access. Many of our arrested AmCits are jailed and
released without us ever having been able to visit.
Charges against the same detainee can change day to
day, and sometimes a prisoner is held without any
charges being filed at any point.

4. (SBU) One such case is that of a young woman who
was held for a week with no charges after her
employer's former in-laws accused her of "terrorist

DAMASCUS 00000797 002.3 OF 009


links" (refs A, B, and C.) When we were finally
notified by her employer of the AmCit's detention,
ConOff got access by standing on the jail doorstep
until she got a promise of access the next day if
ConOff would only leave and stop making a scene. Once
access was obtained, we were able to get the young
AmCit out of the country in fewer than 24 hours.

5. (SBU) We also have all too frequent occasions to
whisk women out of the country when dealing with
domestic disputes. Domestic violence is common and
tolerated to a certain extent under Syrian law. AmCit
women married to Syrians cannot leave the country
without the consent of their husbands or that of one
of his male 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-

DAMASCUS 00000797 003.2 OF 009


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


DAMASCUS 00000797 004.2 OF 009


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

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.

DAMASCUS 00000797 005.3 OF 009

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

DAMASCUS 00000797 006.2 OF 009


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 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.

DAMASCUS 00000797 007.2 OF 009

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
Embassy Baghdad, or for a child whom we believe is not
theirs. (See refs I and J.) We have also had what
clearly appeared to be an "informal adoption" of twins
by a Syrian couple who could not agree on the babies'
birth city. (See ref K.) (Note: Adoption is not legal
under Shari'aa law. The new Catholic Code of July
2006 legalized the adoption of Catholic babies by
Catholics, and quietly, but effectively opened the
door for international adoption. The irony is that
the couple with the fraudulent CRBA claim appeared to
be Catholic. End Note.)

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.

DAMASCUS 00000797 008.3 OF 009


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 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

DAMASCUS 00000797 009.3 OF 009


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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