The problem is also common in Latvia – there are at least 16 suspects
Over the past year the Organised Crime Combating Board (OCCB) of the State Police started three criminal proceedings in relation to human trafficking – two regarding forced marriages and one regarding sexual exploitation. According to data of the Ministry of the Interior, five people – four men and an underaged girl – have been declared as suspects The OCCB has sent two criminal proceedings against 12 persons – four women and eight men, two of whom are Pakistani nationals – to the prosecutor’s office to commence criminal prosecution. Over the past year four people were acknowledged as victims of human trafficking – an adult woman with slight signs of vulnerability and three underaged girls.
According to data of the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, 26 residence permits were terminated in Latvia during the period from 2009 to 2014 due to concluded sham marriages. In 2014, a residence permit was terminated for one Jordanian citizen, in 2013 – one citizen of Kazakhstan, as well as one Pakistani citizen and one Ukrainian citizen, in 2012 – four Russian citizens and one citizen of Cameroon, in 2011 – one Pakistani citizen, one South African citizen, one American citizen, as well as a Turkish citizen, in 2010 – two Russian and two Armenian citizens, as well as one Ukrainian citizen, whereas in 2009 – two Russian citizens, three Georgian citizens and one Armenian citizen.
Latvians become fictitious wives in Ireland
According to information of the Garda Síochána (the national police service of Ireland) that was gathered during the extensive “Operation Vantage” investigation on sham marriages, there were 1,697 marriages concluded between the EU citizens and third county citizens in Ireland during the time period from 1 November 2014 to 31 July 2015. It was possible to identify a trend that these marriages are mostly concluded between men from the Indian subcontinent and women who are citizens of the EU member states – women from Portugal, Latvia, Romania, Hungary, and Estonia.
The men who concluded these marriages in Ireland mostly came from Pakistan – 328, India – 114, and Bangladesh – 74. Whereas the women – citizens of the EU member states who got married to third country nationals – came mainly from countries such as Portugal – 237, Latvia – 71, and Hungary – 69. The respective marriages were most often concluded between citizens of Pakistan and Portugal – 122 marriages, citizens of Pakistan and Latvia – 46, and citizens of India and Portugal – 44. It is believed that most of the marriages are sham marriages.
According to data of the Garda National Immigration Bureau of Ireland, organisers of sham marriages receive between 10,000 and 15,000 euros for one concluded marriage. It is indicated that the brides receive only a small amount of this sum.
Inspection of suspicious marriages
Whilst explaining the situation in Ireland, Ms Vija Buša, Counsellor of the Embassy of the Republic of Latvia in Ireland and Head of the Consular Department, indicates that amendments to the Civil Registration Act of Ireland came into force on 18 August of the previous year, providing the possibility to intervene in suspicious marriages. At the same time as these amendments came into force the Garda Síochána (the national police service of Ireland) started realising the previously mentioned “Operation Vantage”. A group consisting of 16 detectives was created with the aim to combat sham marriages, Ms Buša explains. By using both of these options it is planned to review approximately 1,700 marriages that have been concluded over the past two years. More than 50 marriages have already been terminated, and 22 persons have been accused of providing false information or fake documents. Also several organisers of sham marriages have been arrested. Moreover, several fictive companies that provide fake documents for submission to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service with the aim to receive a residence permit have been identified. Also during the operation on 25 November of the past year around 200 Irish policemen conducted searches at 40 locations in eight counties of Ireland, placing 11 persons under arrest.
Ms Buša indicates that the Garda Síochána (the national police service of Ireland) is interested in cooperating in order to acquire evidence on sham marriages. The Irish side has thanked the Embassy of Latvia and the Latvian State Police for the good cooperation in the field of sham marriages by stating that it has been very efficient and constructive and that the necessary information has been acquired quickly, thus allowing discovery of the committed crimes, the Embassy’s representative explained.
An understanding regarding sham marriages as human trafficking is reached through cooperation between six states
On 1 January of the previous year six EU member states – Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Ireland, Slovakia, and Finland – started implementing the European Commission co-funded project “Preventing Human Trafficking and Sham Marriages: A Multidisciplinary Solution” (HESTIA)*. The project will last until the end of this year. As it is highlighted by Lāsma Stabiņa, National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator (Ministry of the Interior) and manager of this project, until the beginning of the project most of the EU member states and institutions were sceptical of the link between sham marriages and human trafficking, whereas it has now been achieved that this problem is being acknowledged more and more often. She also indicates that the ambitious goal of the HESTIA project is to solve the respective issue and offer suggestions to the European Commission in order to promote new political and legal initiatives for combatting sham marriages and human trafficking.
It is planned to address more than 700 000 people in six EU member states within the scope of the project. Discussions with the participation of legislators, policy planners and practitioners have already taken place on a national and regional level, comprehensive studies on the sham marriage issue have been prepared in each state, training methodology will be developed and training of employees from various fields will be carried out, and there will also be informative campaigns organised and other activities carried out.
Ms Stabiņa acknowledges that the previous year has been intense, productive, and, by ensuring the coordination of the HESTIA project implementation, has also provided positive emotions and satisfaction with the achieved progress, since as a result, the issue of sham marriages and human trafficking is being kept in sight as one of the top priorities in the prevention of human trafficking not only in the partner states. “The understanding regarding this phenomenon has also significantly increased in other European Union member states,” Ms Stabiņa indicates.
It is planned the work of the project will be just as intensive in 2016, as, on the basis of research results, work will be carried out on the development of training methodology that will be adapted to educate practitioners of the project’s partner states, the project manager explains. There are also extensive informative activities for the public and field specialists planned to be carried out on 18 October, which is the EU Anti-Trafficking Day.
Volumes of human trafficking to increase due to the migration crisis
It is stated in Europol’s 2015 Situation Report on trafficking in human beings in the EU that the current migration crisis will leave a significant impact on human trafficking. The report foresees that the volumes and trends of human trafficking in relation to sexual and labour exploitation will increase in the near future. It is also expected that there will be an increase in human trafficking with the purpose to conclude sham marriages in order to meet the demand for attempts of acquiring legal rights to reside within the EU.
In this context Ms Lāsma Stabiņa, National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator and Manager of the HESTIA project, explains that the EU member states are already full of migrants who are looking for possibilities to stay in the EU legally. But it cannot be forgotten that this target group is also exposed to the risk of human trafficking, as migrants find themselves in a helpless situation. “They have left their home country and their homes, they do not know the language nor their rights, they don’t have any money. And there will always be people who will find this favourable and who will try to earn money from it. Therefore Latvia might also potentially become a target state, where people could be exploited,” Ms Stabiņa stresses. Therefore on the one hand, when taking in refugees, Latvia has to ensure an efficient action plan for fulfilling the well-being and staying requirements of the refugees in order for them to remain in the sight of the responsible institutions and non-governmental organisations, the representative of the Ministry of the Interior indicates. And on the other hand, the work that has been already started on the reduction of human trafficking cases has to be continued, by informing the public and especially the target groups subjected to the risk of human trafficking, as well as educating workers of institutions and organisations who come into contact with potential human trafficking victims during their daily work. She also highlights that it is necessary to form a law enforcement approach that is based on the identification of the crime organiser-exploiter (the true financial beneficiary) and on the confiscation of profit gained as a result of human exploitation. It is necessary to place the emphasis on the alleviation of material incentive, she adds.
It is indicated in the Europol report that the main countries of origin of sham marriage victims are the eastern member states of the EU – including Latvia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia – the citizens of which (young women) are taken to the EU’s western member states, where they are forced to enter into a sham marriage with men from Asia, usually Pakistan and India.
The report also highlights that it is not possible to identify the volumes of sham marriages due to the differing regulatory frameworks of the EU member states and the lack of joint EU legislation for combatting sham marriages. Ms Stabiņa mentions that the understanding and terminology regarding the concept of sham marriages in the context of human trafficking is very different in various EU member states. “Besides, Latvia is the only country that imposes criminal liability for the conclusion of sham marriages in Latvia and other European Union member states. Other countries have only come up with a penalty for the conclusion of sham marriages within their territory,” Ms Stabiņa explains. She stresses that the European Commission has great expectations regarding the results of the HESTIA project started under the leadership of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Latvia, because they will be used to make decisions on the following steps in the fight against human trafficking in connection with sham marriages on the level of the whole EU.
*Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB
HESTIA project partners: Ministry of the Interior (Latvia), NGO "Shelter “Safe House"" (Latvia), NGO "Mittetulundusühing"" "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Project associated partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).
Interview author: news agency LETA. The information was published 15.04.2016. by (in coordination with the editorial board of LETA): Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the project HESTIA, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org