Fake refugees — A crisis within a crisis
It seems to becoming clear that it is not reasonably possible to rely on the identity documents of any persons who claim Syrian or Iraqi refugee status from 2014 onwards, the time in which the Islamic State acquired the capacity to create authentic passports.
Since at least April 2015, the Islamic State has said that they will send their members back to the West with fake or no identity, pretending to be refugees so that they are admitted into the West. It’s no surprise, therefore, that this is happening. But for law enforcement, immigration officials and intelligence agencies to not be able to ascertain the real identity of certain persons from Iraq and Syria is a growing problem of international security.
The first known instance of a person with ties to the Islamic State who was a fake Syrian refugee, is al Baghdadi’s ex-wife, Saja al Dulaimi, who although an Iraqi foreign national, had a fake Syrian passport that she used to transit from Syria to Lebanon, allegedly to move money for the Islamic State with her children. In 2014, she lived in a Syrian refugee settlement in Lebanon, among Syrian refugees and humanitarian aid workers. In this story of her court martial in 2015 in Lebanon, she admits that she lied about being a Syrian refugee and used fake documents.
She was arrested by the Lebanese in December 2014, and although she is alleged to be a well-connected terrorist financier, and the former spouse of al Baghdadi, was released in a prisoner swap one year after being arrested in a Qatari-brokered deal. At the time of her release, it was reported that part of her deal gave her permission to move to Turkey with al Baghdadi’s child and to settle in Istanbul. Her brother is allegedly a member of al Nusra. Allegedly, $48 million was paid as part of her prisoner swap. The videos of her release from captivity (there were two occasions) demonstrate the position of power she holds within the two groups (ISIS and al Nusra).
Some of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks used fake – real passports issued by ISIS to enter the EU. As Frontex head, Fabrice Leggeri, noted in this article, it is not possible for intelligence officials to detect whether a person is a fake refugee or a member of ISIS when they carry passports from areas controlled by ISIS.
Importantly, he also notes that in Syria, which has no effective government infrastructure in most parts, it is not possible to confirm the identity of anyone. Even if that was possible, the ID system in Syria is local, as opposed to central, so who will they call – ISIS?
Some agencies refer to the Iris scanning conducted by UNHCR as a way of confirming identity. As is evident in this video, the Iris scanning that is alleged to be capable of confirming ID of a refugee is an internal UNHCR scanning system to ensure that the person who appears for an interview is the person who registered with UNHCR – it does not confirm the actual identity of the person against government databases.
Canada is airlifting 25,000 Syrian refugees in an expedited process. Canada has said that it will take refugees mostly from Lebanon and Turkey for removal to Canada and UNHCR has said that those refugees will be processed only once they are in Canada. However, the government of Canada said here that it will be “confirming” the ID of refugees beforehand. There seem to be mixed messages as to where and when their identities will be confirmed and as against what database.
The end result may be that the US applies pressure on Canada in respect of refugees from certain areas because the risk is greater to the US than to Canada.