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US Suspends African Refugee Program After Discovering Fraud

The State Department said Wednesday that a U.S. family-reunification program for African refugees has been suspended after DNA testing of applicants revealed widespread fraud. The suspension affects family members seeking to join East Africans, and some Liberians, already in the United States. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials say the departments of State and Homeland Security decided to suspend the admissions program after DNA testing of applicants - begun in February in Kenya -- showed that only a fraction of them were actually blood relatives of refugees given residence in the United States.

Under the family-reunification program, known as Priority Three or P 3, refugees already living in the United States are entitled to apply for permission to bring in immediate family members, including spouses, minor children, parents or siblings.

Confirming a news report Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal, State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood said the two U.S. government departments decided earlier this year to begin DNA testing of the applicants after allegations of fraud.

Wood said the initial tests, involving about 500 mainly Somali and Ethiopian applicants examined in Nairobi, showed that only a fraction of them - about 20 percent - were blood relatives of those in the United States.

"I believe it was in February when this pilot test was conducted in Nairobi, and what was found was that roughly 20 percent of the cases - in only 20 percent of these particular samplings - were we able to find a family connection," Wood said. "And so the program has been suspended, and Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security are looking into it further, to see what we can do with regard to this particular program."

Spokesman Wood said that after the Kenya sample indicated serious problems, the testing was expanded to East African and Liberian refugees awaiting resettlement in Ethiopia, Uganda, Guinea, Gambia and Ivory Coast.

A senior official here said high fraud rates were found in all the other countries except Ivory Coast.

The Bush administration set a ceiling of 16,000 African refugee admissions for the current fiscal year ending September 30, but officials say that by last week, less than 7,000 had been admitted.

U.S. refugee advocate groups have expressed concern about the suspension, but say that no one can condone gaining entry to the United States by false means.

A spokeswoman for Catholic Charities told The Wall Street Journal that in African conflict zones the definition of family often extends beyond blood relatives, with families raising orphaned or abandoned children.

Spokesman Wood gave no indication of when the program would resume, but said it is the administration's intention to restore it once the fraud problem is tackled.