Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Brisk Business for Passport Forgers

The process is risky and expensive, but many Iraqis are willing to pay for fake documents to get them to the West.
By Frman Abdul-Rahman

It took Siyamend Osman 48 hours to travel from Iraq to Germany on a fake German passport.

When he arrived last year, he tore the passport up and turned himself over to police. He was eventually given refugee status and allowed to stay in the country. He now works at a meat processing plant in Germany, and has changed his name.

“I never believed that a fake passport would get me to Europe,” Osman told IWPR in a phone interview.

Buying fake passports has become a booming business in Iraq, as people try to leave the country to escape violence, unemployment and other problems. Even in Sulaimaniyah, which is considered to be one of the safest and economically stable places in Iraq, residents are still looking to move abroad.

But escaping from Iraq by illegal means comes at a high price, as the cost of fake travel documents is around 8,500 US dollars - and there is always a chance of getting caught.

One man who forges passports, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that in his seven years in the business he has sent nearly 500 people to different European countries through Damascus airport in neighbouring Syria. He buys passports from Kurds returning to Iraq from Europe and who have no plans to return.

“Though my job is risky, I make boundless economic profit from it,” he said.

He added that he often forges German passports because the photo can be easily removed. Iraqi passports containing visas for European countries are “easy” because he can buy the required passport stamps passports for ten dollars in Baghdad.

Authorities are trying to crack down on the trade in illegal passports. In May 2005, a gang involved in forging both passports and money was arrested, according to a Sulaimaniyah security official who wished to remain anonymous.

The men were found with counterfeit Iraqi currency and forged travel documents, including British residence papers.

“We are always alert so as to expose such people,” said the security official. “They pose a big threat to our country’s national security and that of other countries.”

Some who try to illegally travel to Europe have not been so lucky. Karzan Jalal paid 8,000 dollars for an Iraqi passport with a fake Norwegian residency visa. In April he got as far as Damascus airport, where the authorities discovered his passport was illegal.

“I was unlucky, as a lady who was travelling with me reached Sweden on her fake passport,” said Jalal.

He was not able to get his money back because he signed a document pledging that if he was arrested or was unable to reach his destination for another reason, the person who sold him the forged passport could not be held liable.

Despite the risks, 26-year-old Choman Izzaddin is still hoping to go abroad. “I’m a university graduate but I’m unsure about my future, so I’m obliged to go to a European country,” he said.

“No one here respects the talents and abilities of youth.”

Frman Abdul-Rahman is an IWPR trainee in Sulaimaniyah.

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