A difficult issue facing the refugee crisis – the fake Syrian refugee and its terrorism and money laundering concerns

By Christine Duhaime | October 20th, 2015

Complicated Growing Use of Fake Syrian Passports

According to several recent news reports, many, many refugees and migrants entering, or who have entered, the EU are doing so with false Syrian passports, creating what may be the biggest mass fraud of our time and the largest money laundering activity by sheer volume. In addition to the insurmountable financial crime concerns with the trafficking and use of false passports, there are terrorism and terrorist financing risks that threaten international security. ISIS has repeatedly promised to send their specially-trained terrorists from Syria on migrant boats posing as fake refugees with the solitary mission of carrying out acts of terrorism to destabilize the West. Overlaying all of this is the fact that there are 60 million refugees in the world and we are facing the worse humanitarian crisis ever. The issues are multi-faceted and complex.

With respect to fake passports:

  • Police in Bulgaria intercepted a box of 10,000 fake Syrian passports in the postal system that were destined for Germany.
  • A Moroccan man wanted for ISIS terrorist-related activities was arrested by police in Germany who was living at a refugee centre. He used a fake Syrian passport to enter the EU as an alleged Syrian refugee. He was on an Interpol terrorist wanted list.
  • The head of EU’s Frontex told Europe 1 media that trafficking in fake Syrian passports is a growing criminal business in Turkey.
  • Refugees in Turkey and who have made it to the EU readily admit that they used or bought fake ID to travel and apply for refugee protection, and refugee financial support. 
  • Several journalists in the Middle East have reported being able to easily buy false Syrian documents from traffickers. Reporter Harald Doornbos obtained a fake Syrian passport for $825 with a photo of the Dutch Prime Minister on it (pictured at the right). A UK reporter was able to negotiate for a fake Syrian passport for $2,000 on a Facebook page run by human traffickers.

4 Types of Fake Syrian Passports

There are four types of fake Syrian passports:

1. There are passports that ISIS is manufacturing for terrorism-related purposes to send people to the EU and North America to commit acts of terrorism. Because ISIS has access, and control over some government functions in Syria, it is able to produce real passports with fake information. It also produces fake passports to allow foreign defectors to enter Syria from Turkey and creates fake passports for human trafficking and human slavery purposes.

2. There are real Syrian passports for sale – these are blank passports stolen from the Syrian government that are essentially ready-to-go where the fraudster merely needs to insert the purchaser’s photo and seal it for completion.

3. There are partially real Syrian passports – these are official Syrian passport templates from the Syrian government but they have false information inserted derived from identity stolen online or from a tourist that was stolen in Turkey.

4. Finally, there are homemade Syrian passports made in Turkey or Lebanon that a person can obtain with his or her real name, or a fake name. These are the least popular and cost the least.

Traffickers use social media to market and sell fake passports and Facebook is a popular marketing venue, such as the Facebook page pictured here with 117,819 members that reporters have used to buy fake documents.

Reasons Why Fake Syrian Passports are in Demand

There are multiple reasons why fake passports are in demand and being created, resulting in such a booming organized crime business.

For Terrorist Acts

A key one is that ISIS needs such passports for terrorism-related purposes to send terrorists into the West to commit acts of terrorism. These passports are the most sophisticated and essentially are undetectable in terms of documentation because they are official in the sense that they are created by ISIS but with official government tools. Only the holder thereof knows he or she is not the person named on the passport.

For Terrorist Financing

ISIS also issues passports to send its people out to other countries for terrorist financing purposes. The most compelling story of this occurring was the situation whereby ISIS’ leader, al Baghdadi’s wife had a fake Syrian passport (she is Iraqi) and lived in a refugee camp as a false refugee claimant in Lebanon.

For Access to EU

Fake passports enable people who are truly or falsely claiming refugee status to rapidly become a Convention refugee in the EU and obtain benefits, including the right to work.

The trafficking in fake Syrian passports is so effective, that many foreign nationals from poor countries who are not refugees, are leaving their own countries, entering Syria or Turkey, obtaining fake ID and then departing for the EU in order to fraudulently gain access as a Syrian refugee.

Economic migrants use the refugee crisis for admission to the EU. The EU has said that nine out of ten refugee claimants who enter Serbia from Macedonia claim to be Syrian refugees and seek refugee protection but are not Syrian. UNHCR has said that out of the nearly 400,000 people who entered Italy and Greece in 2015, only half were refugees from Syria. Many are economic migrants from other places, such as North Africa.

For Employment and Shelter

Fake passports are sought and bought by real refugees because they do not have any identity documents and believe that using fake documentation will assist them enter another country. Having official documentation is a condition precedent in many host countries for refugees to rent an apartment, get a job and send their children to school. Some do it for survival.

Transnational Criminal Organizations Traffic in Passports

The problems with the growth of the trafficking of fake passports is that it poses a threat of infiltration of terrorists; it allows groups like ISIS to increase their financing capabilities when their people enter the EU or the West with access to banking facilities. We will be banking members of ISIS without knowing it; it fuels the growth of transnational criminal organizations who are engaged in human trafficking, human smuggling, and document trafficking; and it is creating a whole swath of people who are living under false identities. Eventually, their true identities will emerge and we will see mass prosecutions and deportations of refugee claimants who bought and used false documents.

The Biggest Mass Fraud in the World

It is already the world’s biggest mass fraud with hundreds of thousands of non-refugees using false passports to commit fraud against the UNHCR, aid agencies that provide humanitarian aid, employers, social services agencies and governments. While everyone can understand the desperation that may drive people to make such decisions, the numbers involved and therefore the criminality of the activity, is staggering and threatens the integrity of the EU’s immigration system and national security interests.

Refugee fraud threatens international security

There is not enough humanitarian aid to go around and abuse of the system from criminal activity means legitimate refugees fleeing terrorism suffer from increased poverty and lack of essential services. Some may not survive.

The Most Voluminous Money Laundering Activity

It is also the biggest concentration of financial crime activity with money laundering occurring on an unprecedented scale by volume of participants who are making payments for illegal services to human traffickers, human smugglers and document traffickers, generating huge amounts of proceeds of crime that are deposited in financial institutions by criminal gangs in the EU, Libya, Sudan  Turkey.

Frontex is Concerned

There is a good interview (en francais) with the Director of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, below, regarding migrants, refugees, illegal immigration and the problem of TCOs selling fake passports.  He says:

  • There is an increase of 175% in the number of irregular migrants who crossed borders into the EU in 2015, compared t0 2014.
  • In 2015, 340,000 people who were irregular migrants with fake identity,  were detected in EU. Many more were not detected.
  • There is a system of saturation of the registration system for refugees and migrants in the EU and thus, not all can be registered.


Leggeri : “Tous les migrants ne sont pas… by Europe1fr

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