- The main countries of origin of victims of sham marriages are the eastern member states of the EU – Latvia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, the female citizens of which are willingly or fraudulently taken to western states to enter into sham marriages with citizens of third countries.
- A human trafficking victim is deprived of freedom, is sexually abused by being subjected to violent and degrading treatment and sometimes even being forced to give birth to a child, thus completely ensuring the third country citizen with the opportunity to stay within the EU. The respective person is employed against her own will, whereas the documents are used to obtain credit and loans.
- The Garda Síochána (the national police service of Ireland) is currently assessing 1700 marriages, including those between Latvian and third country citizens, which have been concluded over the past two years.
- The overall number of sham marriages has decreased. This has been facilitated by public awareness campaigns and activities in Latvia, as well as the regulatory framework that prescribes criminal liability for ensuring a third country national with a possibility to legally acquire the right to stay in Latvia, another member state of the EU, member state of the European Economic Area or in the Swiss Confederation in bad faith.
- The fight against sham marriages has been expanded to a level of cooperation between several states. The project “Preventing Human Trafficking and Sham Marriages: A Multidisciplinary Solution” (HESTIA) has been started.
On 29 February 2016 in Stockholm, Sweden a workshop on policy implications on future trends in trafficking was organised within the framework of the international project TRACE “TRafficking as A Criminal Enterprise”, and during it a presentation on sham marriages as a new form of human trafficking was given by the leading researcher of the international project “Preventing Human Trafficking and Sham Marriages: A Multidisciplinary Solution” (HESTIA), which is realised under the leadership of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Latvia, Ms Minna Viuhko from the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control, affiliated with the United Nations (HEUNI) in Finland.
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.
A support project for prevention of human trafficking, implemented for two and a half years, comes to an end
The project “Support Programme of the Society “Shelter “Safe House”” Operation for Prevention of Human Trafficking in Latviaˮ, which was implemented since July 2013, comes to an end in December. The purpose of this project was to increase the role of the society in implementation of human trafficking prevention activities on the national level, by increasing the institutional capacity of the society and ensuring support activities for its operation. As the target group the project involved non-governmental organizations, representatives of public administration and local authorities who are dealing with human trafficking issues, members, workers and volunteers of “Shelter “Safe House””, as well as inhabitants of Latvia.
On October 19, this year, an informative educational event was organized for the society cooperation partners and media in order to inform the participants on the achievements of "Shelter "Safe House"" in preventing the human trafficking, and to give participants a chance to take an interactive class – a master class on the issue of human trafficking. Among the active participants more than 30 various public institutions (including schools), non-governmental organizations, embassies and media representatives were involved.
On 7-8 October 2015 the Ministry of the Interior hosted the Nordic-Baltic Network of Policewomen conference “Gendered Violence – Nordic-Baltic Dialogue” in Riga, and it was with the participation of police officers and experts of the field from Iceland, Estonia, Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Belgium, and Latvia. The conference touched upon challenges in areas such as violence in close relationships, hate crimes, prevention and combatting of human trafficking, violations of human rights, and crimes of sexual violence in countries affected by military conflicts and natural disasters.
Sham marriages become more and more popular in Europe; refugees may also become victims of human trafficking
Latvian legislation prescribes that a person shall be held criminally liable for deliberately carrying out actions that ensure third-country nationals with legal possibilities to acquire the right to stay in a EU member state. Sham marriages have proven to be the best way to do so. In order to find out how this devastating phenomenon is being fought against in the conditions of increasing migration, “Apollo” talked to Lāsma Stabiņa, National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator (Ministry of the Interior) and Manager of the HESTIA* project.
People become victims of human trafficking due to a lack of language knowledge and not knowing their rights
On 22 September 2015 during the meeting of the Ministers of Interior of the European Union a decision was made that Latvia will have to accept an additional 281 asylum seekers, therefore now the total number of asylum seekers that have to be accepted has reached 531. One of the problems in the context of the refugee crisis is also related to human trafficking, and it could increase, as refugees form one of the main risk groups. Since 18 October, which is known as EU Anti-Trafficking Day, is getting closer, “Apollo” wanted to find out how topical the respective problem is and what is being done to prevent it by talking to Lāsma Stabiņa, National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator (Ministry of the Interior) and Manager of the HESTIA* project.
On 18 August of this year amendments to the Civil Registration Act of Ireland came into force, providing marriage registrars with more power in the assessment of suspicious applications to marry by giving special attention to couples in which one of the parties is a citizen of a European Union member state, whereas the other – a third country national. The amendments are aimed at preventing malicious use of the marriage institution for purposes of immigration by concluding sham marriages.
The meeting of the Informal EU Network of National Rapporteurs or Equivalent Mechanisms (NREMs) on Trafficking in Human Beings was held in Brussels on 9-10 June 2015. The meeting was co-organised and co-chaired by the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator. Mr Dimitrijs Trofimovs, Deputy State Secretary, Director of Sectoral Policy Department of the Ministry of the Interior on behalf of the Latvian Presidency addressed participants of the meeting informing that elimination of trafficking in human beings is defined as a priority of European Security Agenda to combat organised crime. He highlighted that tackling the growing problem of sham marriages is important to the Latvian Presidency and it is has therefore been selected as one of the main themes of the meeting.