US investigate potential fraud in resettlement programme
The investigation is reportedly examining around 4,000 Iraqi applications, and is re-examining a further 104,000 others.
So far, over 500 Iraqis who have been admitted into the US as refugees have been connected with the alleged fraud. If the allegations are proven to be true, they could face deportation or being stripped of their US citizenship.
According to the investigation, none of the cases examined have shown any ties to terrorism.
The US “Direct Access” refugee programme was created to expedite the resettlement in the US of Iraqis whose lives are threatened because of their work in Iraq.
The scheme was available to Iraqis who worked for the US government, US media companies, and humanitarian groups and organisations that were funded by the US government.
“The discovery, investigation, and prosecution of individuals involved in the scheme demonstrated the U.S. government's commitment to ensuring the integrity of the program while upholding our humanitarian tradition,” a spokesperson for the State Department said to Reuters.
“Those who would seek to take advantage of America's generosity in welcoming the most vulnerable people will be held accountable,” the spokesperson added.
A State Department report into the investigation has revealed that the scope has expanded significantly since it was announced that the US would be freezing the “Direct Access” programme for 90 days in January.
The freeze was extended indefinitely in April.
Court filings for the investigation have suggested that hopefuls were paying for stolen case files that would aid them through the screening process and consular interviews.
The stolen cases files included the details of over 1,900 Iraqis, including their work history, military services, details of their persecution, potential consular questions, and other highly confidential information.
“Resettlement is a very scarce and valuable and lifesaving commodity. People ... are going to do anything they can to access it,” said Mark Hetfield, president of HIAS, a refugee resettlement agency.
Since the programme started, more than 47,570 Iraqi have been granted permission to resettle in the US, according to a State Department document.
The expanding investigation into potential fraud is threatening similar programme to help Afghans, as the US continues with its planned withdrawal from the country.
Iraqis and Afghans who work with or for the US government of US companies in their home country, risk being injured or killed by extremist groups.