Honduras authorities said that the five Syrians detained in the Central American nation for using falsified Greek passports are college students and one is a professor at a university.
Honduran media confirmed the identity of the five detained men as Majd Ghanout Kousa of Homs, Syria; Fady Freej Shehada, also of Homs; Mikhail Mazen, of Hasaka, Syria; Lourans Samaan, of Homs and William Ghanem, also of Homs.
They were fleeing their country in hopes of refuge in the United States, Honduran authorities said Thursday.
Police spokesman Aníbal Baca said the International Police (Interpol) followed the group from Syria, to Lebanon and Turkey, then on to Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica and Honduras. There was no indication that the men were suspected of anything except carrying stolen documents to the Central American nation. Baca said Wednesday that the men indicated they planned to travel to the United States.
A preliminary investigation has found that the men acquired false documents in Brazil, according to Honduran newspaper La Prensa, where they paid an unspecified amount of money. The men were using falsified passports because Syrians need visas to enter Honduras.
"Syrian citizens who come with Syrians passports have to have a visa to enter," a Honduran official told La Tribuna.
According to Tribuna, a sixth Syrian arrived in Tegucigalpa carrying a fake Greek passport on Friday, Nov. 13. He was deported back to Syria that same day, the paper said.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa confirmed to La Prensa that the Obama administration is working with Honduran authorities to verify the identities of the five men.
In a statement, Carolina Menjivar, director of the Institute for Migration in Honduras, said that the men "have no criminal record, according to the investigative bodies in their countries of origin.” The Greek Embassy in Honduras added on Wednesday that the detainees do not speak a word of Greek.
Honduras is a common route for migrants trying to reach the United States, but it's unlikely the men would have been able to enter the U.S. with the stolen passports. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers scan the passports of each traveler and have access to information about stolen passports.
Europeans are generally allowed to freely travel to the United States as residents of so-called visa waiver countries, but they are still must seek permission to travel to the U.S. through the Homeland Security Department's Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA.
The ESTA system is used to verify that travelers from countries that aren't required to apply for a visa are eligible to visit the U.S.
With reporting by the Associated Press.