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Cablegate: Eritrea Fraud Summary Through August 2009

DE RUEHAE #0340/01 2741405
R 011405Z OCT 09




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Eritrea Fraud Summary through August 2009

Ref: (A) State 57623, (B) Asmara 279

(a) Country Conditions

1. The Eritrean government (GSE) continued its harsh economic
policies, which further increased the scarcity of basic goods and
the impoverishment its people. Grocery stores are thinly stocked;
meat and fish are not always available, and basic commodities such
as sugar, flour, cooking oil, coffee and tea are strictly rationed
and are sometimes unavailable due to restrictions on imports and the
government's monopoly on possessing hard currency (the official
exchange rate is 15 nakfa to the dollar, but black market rates are
45 nakfa/dollar). Salaries for those in the public sector were
frozen in 1999 though inflation has risen over 350% since then.
Current inflation is estimated to be 35% and growing. President
Isaias Afwerki stated in a July 2009 interview that people should
"sacrifice a breakfast... to put in place a road." People are
hungry and are resorting to increasingly desperate measures,
including crime, to feed their families.

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2. Hundreds of thousands of Eritrea's citizens are conscripted to
national service where many are forced to serve until age 54 (men)
and age 47 (women) at wages under $30/month. Mandatory national
service begins as early as age 17 for both boys and girls, when they
are required to leave home to attend their 4th year of high school
at "Sawa," a camp that includes intensive military training. Some
conscripts have performed back-breaking hard labor since 1994 when
national service began. The ministry of defense periodically
conducts round-ups of any persons who cannot show evidence of their
demobilization from national service. Round-ups may occur any time
of day or night throughout the year, but become more frequent
immediately before Eritrea's May 24th Independence Day holiday.

3. The GSE generally does not provide passports or exit visas to
Eritreans who are not released from national service. Many parents
seek any avenue to take their children out of the country prior to
being conscripted, even at the risk of their own arrest. Those
unable to obtain permission to leave Eritrea often flee illegally
across the border to Sudan or Ethiopia where they hope to register
as refugees. This has led to a massive exodus across Eritrea's
borders, with as many as 3,000 people per month leaving the country
and paying smugglers $2,000-3,000 for a way out. According to the
UN, Eritrea had the second-highest number of asylum seekers in the
world in 2008, after Somalia.

4. The consular section in Asmara has been closed to most visa
services since January 2007. The following explanation is posted on
the Asmara Embassy website: "The Government of Eritrea has not
consistently granted visas to State Department temporary visitors
who provide vital support for our Embassy operations. Additionally,
in direct violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic
Relations, a treaty to which the Government of Eritrea is a
signatory, consular staff are not notified if an American is
arrested, nor can they travel freely to visit an American citizen in
trouble. The Government of Eritrea does not allow unrestricted
travel by American diplomatic and consular personnel, who are not
allowed outside the capital of Asmara without requesting permission
to travel 10 days in advance. Permission is often not granted even
when requested in advance. For these reasons we are closed for
public operations except for the provision of necessary services to
American citizens."
5. Asmara re-opened for student visa services in June 2009. Post
also adjudicates nonimmigrant visas for USG exchange visitors,
Eritrean government officials, and resident diplomats and members of
international organizations and their families. Immigrant visas are
limited to SIVs and adoptions. The consular section provides
document intake services for immigrant and diversity visas,
electronically and physically transfers cases to other posts upon
request, and provides document verification services for U.S.
embassies and consulates processing Eritrean applicants. Post
anticipates remaining closed in the immediate future for most visa
services, but continues to provide the full array of American
Citizen Services.

6. Though Eritrea has historically been considered a low-to-medium
fraud country, but its incidence is increasing due to deteriorating
country conditions. Asmara is now a medium-fraud post, but as
fraudulent activity increases, Asmara has the potential to become a
high-fraud post as profit-motivated fraud rings learn to take
advantage of a population desperate to escape the GSE's oppressive

(b) NIV Fraud

7. No significant fraud was found in the limited number of NIVs
adjudicated by post. For student visa applicants, the University of
Asmara generally provides reliable student record verification and

ASMARA 00000340 002 OF 006

issues temporary diplomas until students have completed national
service. Post is aware of some cases when the university would not
release records because students had not yet completed national
service. University graduates sometime work as graduate assistants
for their national service and are more likely than others to be
released after less than two years. Posts interviewing Eritrean
students should be aware that the University of Asmara graduated its
final class in 2007, and it now acts as an umbrella organization for
the testing and recordkeeping of seven institutions of higher
education (IHE): Eritrea Institute of Technology (first graduating
class: 2007), Hamelmallo Agricultural College (first class: 2008),
College of Health Sciences (first class: 2008), Orotta School of
Medicine (first class will graduate November 2009), College of
Marine Sciences & Technology (first class: 2008), College of
Business and Economics (first class: 2008), and the College of Arts
and Social Sciences (first class: 2008). None of the institutions
is currently accredited, but in 2007 the GSE created the National
Board for Higher Education (NBHE), which is currently producing
guidelines to assess each institution and determine if they will be

8. Post completed several validation studies during the reporting
period. Of those receiving B1/B2 visas between May 01, 2006 and
December 31, 2008 (until January 15, 2007, the consular section was
still fully open to the public for visa services), about 66% of
those receiving visas returned to Eritrea. Not uncommon for
Eritrea, post could not reach about 14% of the visa recipients by
phone, so actual percentage may be 5% higher or lower[t1]. About
30% of the visa recipients are still in the U.S. both legally (after
adjusting status) and illegally. The rest died or did not travel on
their visas. Most of those that did not return were young men
(under age 40). Post believes the relatively high return rate is
because the GSE only issues passports and exit visas to those it
believes will return to Eritrea. Post also found that 100% of those
receiving J-1 exchange visas to participate in the international
visitor program over the last five years have returned. Four of the
last twelve FSN's post sent to training in the U.S. did not return;
post has implemented a policy of sending its local employees to
regional training rather than to the U.S.

(c) IV Fraud

9. Post is not currently issuing IVs other than adoptions and SIVs,
and did not experience 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 (greater than 80% in Eritrea). Almost all
weddings in Eritrea are grand affairs, and even impoverished
families celebrate with elaborate ceremonies recorded on video. Any
wedding without an elaborate religious service and video
documentation is highly suspect. Note that other Western embassies
in Asmara adjudicating family-based immigration visas report that as
many as 40% of marriage certificates are fraudulent.

(d) DV Fraud

10. Asmara is considered to be a medium-fraud post for DVs. Though
not open for DV processing, post performs a significant amount of
document verification in support of DVs adjudicated at other posts.
Twenty-three of 209 documents (11%) verified by post during this
reporting period were fraudulent, most of them school transcripts,
and most of them toward the end of the DV processing year. Posts
adjudicating Eritrean DV applicants should be aware that government
secondary schools for the 1994 through 2003 school years admitted
(and school transcripts reflect marks for) students from the 8th to
11th grade; a student completing 11th grade in 2006 or earlier was
considered to have finished high school. Beginning with the 2003-04
school year, government secondary schools admitted (and school
transcripts reflect marks for) students from the 9th to 12th grade;
a student is thus now not considered by the GSE to have completed
high school until completing 12th grade, away from home at Sawa.
Secondary school transcripts for students completing 12th grade in
2007 or later will reflect the grades from their final year at Sawa.
There should be no transcripts showing a student completing the
fourth year of a government secondary school in 2007. Note that
Asmara's two private schools, the Italian School and the Asmara
International Community School, teach through the 12th grade, and
their Eritrean students are still required by Eritrean law to go to
Sawa for the three-month segment of military training before
beginning the required minimum 18 months of national service.

11. Post is aware of the high propensity for DV fraud by Eritrean
applicants. Post has received several examples of unsolicited
e-mails circulating around Asmara from the "Diversity Visa
Coordinator, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S Department of State"
advising the recipient that he is a "visa lottery program winner."
A secondary school director who is a good contact of the consular

ASMARA 00000340 003 OF 006

section states that he is often asked to falsify documents for DV
applicants; he mentioned a person known by name of Eritrean or
Ethiopian origin, who travels between Khartoum and Nairobi, charging
up to $2,000 per school transcript. Post has also encountered many
fraudulent documents bearing the stamp of a known person who left
the Asmara public registration office in 2005. Post has seen
several examples of legitimate students providing falsified
documents, e.g. substituting their name on another student's
transcripts when they could have provided their own, or enhancing
the grades on their own transcripts, such as to show a "B" average
rather than a "D" average. Asmara advises any posts adjudicating
DVs to scan and send any questionable documents to us for
verification; post can usually provide results within a few days.

(e) ACS and U.S. Passport Fraud

12. Asmara is a low-fraud post for ACS and U.S. passports. The
majority of CRBA applicants are for infants or toddlers with
non-resident Eritrean-American fathers and Eritrean mothers, often
one or two decades younger than and not necessarily married to the
child's father. The Eritrean-American father often has a difficult
time demonstrating adequate physical presence in the US to transmit
citizenship. Often, there is no passport stamp showing entry into
the U.S. though the father states he was living there. Because of
this, post often requests additional proof of physical presence such
as school transcripts, W2 statements, and tax records. Post has
received several fraudulent employment letters so does not accept
these as proof of physical presence. Several cases remain
outstanding as it approaches 90 days since the AmCit parent was
notified that additional proof is needed to establish physical
presence; these cases may yet prove to be fraudulent. Post has not
had any false paternity claims. DNA testing had been used in the
recent past to prove out-of-wedlock paternity, but no fraud was ever
found, and all parties completed the tests as requested (no "no

(f) Adoption Fraud

13. Asmara accepts petitions for the adoption of Eritrean children,
and is a low-fraud post for adoptions. Eritrea allows prospective
parents to fully adopt an Eritrean child, but at least one parent
must be of Eritrean descent. There are two ways to adopt a child.
If a child is abandoned as an infant and placed in an orphanage, the
Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare administers the adoption.
ConOff consulted with the ministry and determined that sound
procedures are in place to assure children are truly orphans and
adoptions are valid. The other method is through the adoption
court: if the parent(s) have died or are unable to care for a child,
adoption may be granted, usually to a family member. Post had
several cases during this reporting period where the prospective
adoptive parents had been granted guardianship, but not adoption, of
the child they wanted to adopt. All were instructed to finalize the
adoptions through the adoption court and were able to do so within
several months. Post requested proof of numerous documents (birth
certificates, death certificates, court adoption papers) for several
adoption cases and none were fraudulent.

(g) DNA Testing

14. Asmara uses DNA testing for children and siblings of AmCits and
LPR's (IR2, F2, F4 and Visas 92 follow-to-join cases), primarily at
the request of USCIS in the U.S. Requests are increasing - post
performed 29 DNA tests over the past 18 month period but most were
in the last six months. Asmara does not generally receive the
results of the tests requested by USCIS, but of the four results
received during the reporting period, one was fraudulent; two
"brothers" were tested and one proved to be the legitimate child of
the AmCit, the other did not. ConOff has witnessed DNA collection
and post believes the laboratories used in Eritrea are reliable,
strictly following required procedures. Due to deteriorating
conditions in Eritrea, post believes the propensity for fraud in
these types of cases is high and encourages posts processing
Eritrean IVs to consider utilizing DNA testing.

(h) Asylum and Other DHS Benefits Fraud
15. Post only rarely issues Visas 92s and Visas 93s (asylum and
refugee follow-to-join travel letters issued on visa foils) and has
not experienced fraud during the reporting period. The risk of
persecution is very real for many Eritrean citizens, particularly
those unable to obtain a passport or exit visa who leave the country
illegally. The military has shoot-to-kill orders for those caught
trying to cross the border illegally. If caught or discovered to
have left the country illegally, the person and his/her family
members might be imprisoned and/or fined.

ASMARA 00000340 004 OF 006

16. Those persons who have completed national service, passed the
age at which they might be recalled to national service, who are not
members of non-registered religious groups, or, who are politically
well-connected are the most likely to be able to obtain passports
and exit visas and leave the country legally[t3]. Family members of
some high-level GSE officials are known to have applied for asylum
in the U.S. with the GSE official listed as a family member for a
follow-to-join reunion. Post cooperates with DHS by sharing
country-specific and derogatory information regarding the asylee's
family relationships in Eritrea when available.

(i) Alien Smuggling

17. Eritrea is a source country for illegal travelers, and there are
indications of organized systems designed to facilitate travel to
the U.S. During just the past three months, post was alerted to a
number of Eritreans found with fraudulent passports in Brazil, El
Salvador, and Colombia[t4] (some via Rio/Sao Paolo and others via
Tel Aviv). This is the first time post has learned of Eritreans
attempting to travel toward the U.S. through Israel. During this
reporting period, 12 full planeloads of Eritreans were deported from
Egypt (most originating from the Sinai Peninsula) back to Eritrea,
with several post contacts affirming that it is Israel, not Egypt,
that is the targeted destination. The path to Israel through the
Sinai Peninsula is a common route for Eritreans, and contacts in
Israel inform post of an increasing number of Eritreans with
fraudulent Australian and Israeli visas attempting to secure a visa
through the Costa Rican, Mexican and Colombian Embassy with the end
goal of arriving in the U.S. Post will be monitoring this potential
route closely over the next reporting period.

18. Most alien smuggling is geared toward getting people out of
Eritrea through Sudan or Ethiopia; subsequent attempts to travel to
the U.S. originate in third countries. The smugglers[t5], who
charge from $1000 to as high as $7000 are purported Eritrean
military, police, and national security officers. There are also
reports of Rashaida (a trans-national ethnic group known to be
traders) involvement. In August 2009, Italian authorities
discovered a boat in the Mediterranean originating from Libya where
75 of 80 Eritreans onboard a boat had perished. This is just one
example of the desperate measures Eritreans are willing to take to
escape the harsh conditions of their country.

(j) DS Criminal Fraud Investigations

19. Conoff and RSO have an excellent relationship and freely share
information of value to both parties. The FSNI on the RSO's staff
is readily available and assists the consular section with its fraud
investigations as needed. Post has instigated no criminal fraud
investigations during the reporting period, and strained relations
between the USG and the GSE would make any sort of joint
collaboration on a criminal investigation highly unlikely.

(k) Host Country Passports and Documents

20. Airline contacts have informed post of numerous cases of
fraudulent Eritrean passports being used for travel to Frankfurt,
Amsterdam and Milan. It is also often possible for those unable to
obtain a passport to purchase one through corrupt officials at
prices between $6500 and $10,000 (the normal price in Asmara is
$30); see reftel (b) for further details. Persons who flee the
country to Sudan because they are not able to obtain a passport in
Asmara may legally obtain a passport at the Eritrean Embassy in
Khartoum. The GSE issues passports to Eritrean nationals living in
Sudan, even if they departed illegally. 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. 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.

21. 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. Eritrea has signed an
international agreement stating that they will begin issuing machine
readable passports by March 31, 2010. The GSE has not yet signed a
contract or paid a design/production fee to the company they have
approached which would likely produce the passports, so post
believes it is highly unlikely this will happen by the target date.

ASMARA 00000340 005 OF 006

22. The Eritrean national ID card is the only document proving
Eritrean nationality, but it is hand-written in Tigrinya and Arabic
(no English), poorly laminated, and easily altered. It is possible
that certain Eritrean citizens, particularly Jehovah's Witnesses,
may not be able to obtain an Eritrean ID card.

23. Post has 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%
"rehabilitation tax." The GSE allows asylees back into the country
so that they will bring in desperately needed hard currency.

24. 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. Post has not yet seen a fraudulent
certificate, but official certificates have no known security
features and could be easily forged. There are also reports that
these certificates may obtained fraudulently within Eritrea by
corrupt officials. The GSE does not verify these certificates.

25. Post has received reports that officially issued birth and
marriage certificates can be fraudulently obtained for $330 from the
Asmara (and probably other) Eritrean municipalities. Information
contained on official birth and marriage certificates can be altered
as desired. On a positive note, birth, marriage, and divorce
records are now computerized and assigned a unique identification
number. 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.

(l) Cooperation with Host Government Authorities
--------------------------------------------- ---

26. Post continues to receive little cooperation on consular issues
from the host government other than routine document verification.
Because legitimately issued governmental documents may have been
fraudulently obtained, this cooperation is of limited use. School
records are well kept and schools cooperate in verifying these
documents. Post believes that the GSE would likely cooperate with
the USG regarding the breakup of any sort of organized fraud ring.
Over this reporting period, see reftel (b), the GSE has arrested
numerous individuals for issuing fraudulent documents and passports.

27. For most requests of the GSE, post must request assistance
through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) via a diplomatic note.
After following this process through the MFA, post finally received
exemplars of entry and exit stamps for several ports of entry, and
exemplars of the signatures used for authenticating documents.
Post's Regional Consular Officer (RCO) recently received a visa
after several diplomatic notes were sent (and numerous follow-up
phone calls made) to the MFA. This is the first time in several
years that an RCO has received a visa after numerous tries by two
RCO's. ConOff arrived at post several weeks later than scheduled in
April 2009, because of GSE delays in issuing the visa. When a
diplomatic note was sent by post to the MFA implying the consular
section might need to be closed in the absence of a consular
officer, the visa was issued.

(m) Areas of Particular Concern

28. Post enjoys an excellent relationship with other embassies in
Asmara, and consular-related information is readily shared. A
consular working group recently started and holds meetings monthly
to discuss consular issues, most recently focusing on fraud.
Airline contacts also provide reliable and helpful information.
Since Asmara is closed to the public for most visa services, it
interfaces with many other posts (especially Nairobi, Addis Ababa,
Kampala, Khartoum, and Johannesburg) on a regular basis,
particularly for transferring cases and verifying documents. ConOff
also regularly receives information related to fraud from the post
RSO and external DHS contacts.

29. The GSE's restrictive policies continue to hamper consular
operations. GSE restrictions on diplomatic travel make it almost
impossible for an American citizen to rely on emergency consular
assistance outside of the capital. This was the case for two AmCits
arrested during this reporting period, including an
Eritrean-American Embassy employee who was recently arrested and
held for four days. The Embassy was not notified, nor was the ConOff
able to visit after learning of the arrest. Without significant
changes in GSE policies, the consular section will likely remain
closed for general visa services.

ASMARA 00000340 006 OF 006

30. With the opening of the consular section for student visas in
June 2009, ConOff gave a presentation to 150 potential student visa
applicants at the American Center, a few blocks away from the U.S.
Embassy, as one of its regularly scheduled evening events. A month
later at a similar event, members of the Eritrean national security
office began signing in and videotaping participants as they
entered. A few weeks later in August, the GSE informed the Embassy
that it must cancel all public events, indefinitely. Because of
this restriction, it is unlikely[t6] that any consular-related
public outreach events will be held in the near future.

(n) Staffing and Training

31. Asmara is staffed by one consular officer who arrived in April
2009. This is the first time in 10 years that Asmara has had an
experienced (third-tour) consular officer. ConOff backs up the
Pol/Econ officer as needed. The section is also staffed by a
consular assistant with 10 years experience, and a visa assistant
with two and a half years experience. The Pol/Econ officer holds a
consular commission and backs up as ConOff as needed. A
20-hour/week consular associate position and a full-time consular
cashier position are unfilled, and will likely remain unfilled until
the section re-opens fully for visa services.

32. ConOff has not completed any fraud training since ConGen in
April[t7] 2006. The consular assistant completed the Fraud
Prevention Workshop at FSI in spring 2004; and completed online
courses in Detecting Fraudulent Documents in January 2009, and
Examining U.S. Passports in April, 2009. The visa assistant
completed online courses in Detecting Fraudulent Documents, February
2009; and Detecting Imposters, March 2009.

33. Post Fraud Prevention Manager and point of contact for all
related issues is consular officer Pamela Hack, e-mail, telephone 291-1-120004 x2415 or IVG 596-2415.
[t1]Is this a guess or actual statisitical analysis?
[t2]I took a sentence out here because it didn't track logically.
[t3]Your sentence did not make sense. Does this replacement meet
the need?
[t4]Please note the correct spelling of the country.
[t5] The term coyote is not universally clear and isn't really
necessary. The term trafficker applies to those who move people
coercively. Smuggler is the best term for those hired by migrants
to move them.
[t6]Be careful with the word "extremely." It really should only be
applied to extreme circumstances.
[t7] Personal preference: comma not needed and is distracting
between a month and year.

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