Page last updated at 10:01 GMT, Thursday, 21 August 2008 11:01 UK

Fraud halts US refugee programme

The Statue of Liberty, New York's historical landmark for immigrants
The US is now mulling the immigration scheme's future

The United States has suspended a programme aimed at reuniting refugees from Africa with relatives in the US because of widespread fraud.

The US state department said DNA tests showed the majority of those applying had no family relationships in the US.

Thousands of Africans have been allowed to settle in the US under its P3 family reunification programme.

The scheme offers close family members the chance to join loved ones who have already made America their home.

But DNA tests on applicants in seven African countries showed that only around 20% of those trying to enter the US actually had a blood relationship.

The DNA tests were initially carried out in Kenya on some 500 refugees, mainly Somalis and Ethiopians, who were awaiting resettlement.

"After the samples suggested high rates of fraud, we expanded testing to Ethiopia, Uganda, Ghana, Guinea, Gambia and Ivory Coast," said state department spokesman Robert Wood.

Apart from Ivory Coast, which had smaller samples, the results from those tests indicated a similar level of fraud, prompting officials to suspend the scheme.

The applicants were not tested with the DNA of a relative in the US, but with each other - for example a woman with children who claimed to be joining a husband in the US.

It was found that people claiming to be related often had no link.

The Priority Three (P3) programme to reunite families had been running since 1990.

The Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security were now examining the future of the scheme, Mr Wood said.

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