'Sham marriage' ruling sees rise in trafficked women


A HIGH Court decision which found that gardaí could not stop people having marriages of convenience has “reopened the flood gates” for trafficking women into Ireland for this purpose, according to the Latvian ambassador.

Peteris Karlis Elferts said his embassy intervened in 89 cases last year where women were “most likely trafficked” into Ireland to participate in sham marriages. He added that these included some “horrific cases” in which women had been sexually exploited or beaten.

This was an increase on 2010 when the embassy dealt with about 50 such cases. Up to the end of March 2012, the embassy dealt with 28 suspected cases of trafficking for the purpose of sham marriages.

Mr Elferts said that in many cases, the women were promised work in Ireland only to have their passports and phones taken on arrival.

At this point they would be offered the alternative of entering into a sham marriage. “Quite often they can’t leave the premises they are being held in and . . . they don’t have a command of the English language,” he said.

“They’re really targeting the most vulnerable groups,” which includes women coming from orphanages or boarding schools, from poor, rural or large families, and young women between the ages of 18 and 20.

Before a 2011 High Court ruling, Mr Elferts added, which found that gardaí had no power to stop non-EU citizens entering into a marriage of convenience for immigration purposes, the number of women involved in such marriages had reduced.

He said it was on the rise again following the High Court decision.

Mr Elferts said he was encouraged by the promised Immigration Residence and Protection Bill – an EU directive on human trafficking – and the Irish Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008, which is to be amended to come into line with the EU directive before it comes into force in 2013.

He also pointed to the Government’s acceptance of the recommendation made by Latvia in relation to sham marriages following the UN Universal Periodic Review process in October.

However, he said that, although these developments were welcome, nothing had changed to date. “We’re still waiting for these amendments.”

Under an EU directive that came into effect in the Republic in 2006, non-EU spouses and family members of EU citizens have the right to live in Ireland and travel freely within the union.

However, Mr Elferts argued, the EU directive “is not an impediment for other EU member states in combating sham marriages and shouldn’t be for Ireland”.

In 2010 the superintendent registrar for the HSE eastern registration area said that up to 15 per cent of the civil ceremonies carried out in Ireland could be marriages of convenience.

The marriages, often between eastern European women and men from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, gave the non-EU partner residency rights in the EU.

In some cases the EU nationals were offered several thousand euro to marry.

In October 2010 the Government issued guidelines to registrars in an effort to tackle sham marriages. These include identification requirements and restrictions on the use of interpreters

However, in 2011 the High Court ruled that any review of a marriage, to decide if it is a marriage of convenience, may only take place after the fact and not before.

Provisional statistics from the Department of Justice, up to the end of September 2011, show the top five countries whose nationals applied for residence cards, as a spouse of an EU citizen under the EU free movement directive, were: Pakistan, with 210 applications (19 female and 191 male); Nigeria, with 117 applications (42 female and 75 male); Brazil, with 97 applications (66 female and 31 male); India, with 77 applications (13 female and 64 male), and Bangladesh with 52 applications (one female and 51 male).

Out of these 553 applications, 182, or one in three, involved Latvian or Lithuanian spouses.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said the proposed Immigration Residence and Protection Bill contained provision for the Minister to disregard a marriage deemed to be one of convenience in immigration decisions.

“There is no single or simple solution to the problem of marriage of convenience,” the spokesman said. “The provision cited is aimed at making a marriage of convenience less attractive to the participants.”

167:Number of cases of suspected trafficking for sham marriages dealt with by the Latvian embassy in Ireland since 2010