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An investigative report has uncovered how easy it is to secure a fake nursing diploma in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The report could have consequences for Germany, where foreign workers are filling massive nursing shortages.
With around €1,250 ($1,420) and a quick phone call, journalist Azra Omerovic was on her way to becoming a nurse.
"I am interested since I got a job offer in Germany," Omerovic says in video showing her phone conversation with a middleman. "I would need it in mid-January."
Just 17 days later, she received a diploma issued by an actual technical school stating that she'd completed a two-year nursing certification, complete with good grades and all the official stamps and seals — all without ever having set foot in the classroom.
The investigative report by Omerovic and fellow journalist Avdo Avdic from the online newsmagazine Zurnal.info has caused waves in Bosnia-Herzegovina — and also in Western Europe.
Concerns over German care workers
The report carries serious implications for Germany, which is one of the most attractive destinations for many Bosnians — especially among trained nurses.
Over 50,000 people from Bosnia-Herzegovina immigrated to Germany in 2016 and 2017, according to recently published figures from Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF).
Many Bosnians living in Germany have found work in areas with severe staff shortages, such as the country's care worker and nursing industries.
All workers in these fields must have their diplomas and other qualifications validated by the Central Office for Foreign Education (ZAB) in order to work in Germany.
The office confirmed that it is aware of the cases out of Bosnia-Herzegovina and that it has informed the local recognition bodies about them, public broadcaster ARD reported.
The problem, however, is that the fake degrees are often issued by real schools — and ones whose certificates are recognized by German authorities.
"When you look, for instance, at the diploma we obtained, you can see it looks official," Avdic told DW. "It clearly confirms that my colleague passed all the exams for a nurse, it shows which exams and it confirms that she attended all the classes through two years."
"That diploma does not look like a fake," he added.
Exposing holes in judicial system
During the Bosnian War, which raged between 1992 and 1995, many people's personal documents were destroyed or lost, including high school and university diplomas.
In the aftermath, the business of selling fake diplomas grew steadily. It's now an open secret that many people managed to secure school certificates by purchasing them illicitly.
The report has already spurred Bosnia-Herzegovina's parliament to begin re-examining the diplomas of its parliamentary workers, German broadcaster Deutschlandfunk reported.
In order to begin fixing the problem, Avdic emphasized that "a serious audit" of the schools issuing the fake diplomas will be key.
"If we had some more time for our investigation and more resources available, we could have obtained a law school diploma without a moment spent at the faculty, without a single exam actually passed," said Avdic.
The report has revealed the weaknesses of the country's judicial system, according to Avdic, as he says that Zurnal.info has evidence that there are several people employed in the judicial system using fake diplomas.