KLAIPEDA - If you happen to be an Asian man living in far-flung Tajikistan, Kazakhstan or maybe in the Lithuanian sentiment-filled Georgia, desiring someday to tap into the pink passports that the citizens of the European Union carry, what is the most direct way to pave the road into it? As a rule, men do what they do best: cast a magic Asian spell onto women from the former Soviet Union who wander Dushanbe, Astana or Tbilisi streets exhaling sighs of excitement, usually in Russian!
No effective system exists to sort out all marriages
A recent study by the Vilnius Bureau of the International Migration Organization (IMO) and the European Migration Network (EMN) has revealed that Lithuanian women are desired brides for EU residency-seeking men from as far away as the southern parts of the former Soviet bloc, and even Pakistan.
The study has shown that those men are willing to pay as much as it takes to infatuate the Lithuanian women, in order to come to Lithuania and stay here. They will pay as much as is needed to fix their residency papers before hopping on to the nearest Germany- or UK-bound plane or bus, to a destination that, without the marriage to the Lithuanian girl, perhaps would have always remained only in their dreams.
As many as 1,500 cases a year of these foreigner-related arrivals, stays and living in the country are illegal breaches, and an additional 2,000 foreigners are not admitted into Lithuania yearly. But with the stringent policies aiming to curb these violations, fake marriages as a means to hunker down in this EU member state are on the rise.
“Fake marriages with foreigners seeing Lithuania as a transient country to Western Europe are quite a new phenomenon in Lithuania. Frankly, therefore, we do not yet have an effective prevention against it,” says Audra Sipaviciene, head of the EMN Vilnius Bureau.
Many ways to bend the law
Not only are Lithuanian women, both in Asia and EU member states, being baited by non-EU resident men, but Lithuanian men bearing the pink EU passport often end up giving up to the charms of foreign women desperate to obtain an EU passport.
“The illegal migration directions have been the same for many years. We see the biggest flows of illegal migration through the EU’s outer borders, of Lithuania, coming from Belarus. Most often, Georgian, Russian, Vietnamese and Afghani citizens are trying to sneak through it into the Schengen space controlled by Lithuania. There are also single cases of unsanctioned border crossings of Azerbaijani, Iranians and Moldovans,” said the EMN Vilnius Bureau director, referring to the investigation results.
When it comes to the means of illegal migration, they have been the same from year to year, like border crossings using fake personal IDs or transgressing the border with no valid visa. In recent years, however, the Migration Department has been observing an increased number of foreign nationals trying to obtain Lithuanian and, simultaneously, Schengen visas in deceitful ways, for example, through establishing phony, non-existent enterprises or striking up fictitious marriages.
“The fictitiousness of this kind of marriage is usually determined after some time in the country. During the nuptials’ regular check-ups, which we call ‘conversations,’ carried out in local Migration offices, the truth crops up as newlyweds often don’t live in the same place, cannot communicate in a common language and both provide contradictive data about their supposedly ‘common life,’” said Milda Kazlaukiene, a migration official.
Besides, the Migration Department agents quiz the newlyweds about their nuptial life in written form and, sometimes, pop in to the couple’s house, grilling them with questions about the couple’s parents, neighbors, friends and acquaintances.
“Upon finding incongruities and contradictions in the affidavits, the marriage is ruled fictitious and the permit for the third party’s citizen is revoked,” said the migration official.
Although the suspected fake marriage check-ups are on the rise in Lithuania - from 18 check-ups in 2008 to 59 verifications in 2011 - the number of revoked permits granted to foreigners after they get married to Lithuanian citizens, and refusals to grant such permits, remains pretty low. In 2011, for example, the Department refused 16 times to issue permits to stay in the country for foreigners married to Lithuanian nationals, and three permits have been annulled.
Fake marriages on rise since 2008
The IMO Vilnius Bureau survey shows that the issue of fake marriages is becoming increasingly exacerbated after Lithuanian joined the Schengen zone at the end of 2007. Most of the time, sham marriages were struck with citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and Russia. The report discloses that, throughout 2008-2011, 10 Georgian men and one Georgian woman registered a fake marriage with a Lithuanian citizen, as many five men and seven Ukrainian women chose this form to obtain the Lithuanian and EU passport, followed by two men and three women from Russia, two men and one woman from Azerbaijan, three men from Turkey and Pakistan and one Armenian male.
“The numbers largely depend on the intensity of the check-ups. Until now, mostly only the Vilnius Migration Department carried out them, but the check-up geography is about to expand,” Sipaviciene said.
She says that Lithuanian women, for this purpose, enjoy big popularity in the UK among illegal Pakistani men. “There’s most of this kind of fake marriage in the United Kingdom. Thus, only in 2011, some 110 fake marriage schemes with Pakistani men were busted. A Lithuanian engaging in this kind of scheme can pocket from 2,000 to 20,000 pounds,” the IMO Vilnius Bureau head pointed out.
But besides the economic boon, it seems some Lithuanian women want sincerely “to help out” the illegal Pakistani men. “However, true love stories are rather unique. Most of the time, the love is one-sided. And, interestingly, until 2011, a foreigner suffered no serious legal consequences, besides a five year admission ban, if caught in a fake marriage scheme. So many of those foreign men thought: ‘Why not try?’” Sipaviciene told Delfi.
Meanwhile, Lithuanian residents deliberately involved in sham marriage schemes can be fined from a mere 250 litas, to 1,000 litas.
However, a bust during an eye-to-eye check-up with a migration officer does not necessarily mean deportation. Even with the suspicions over fake marriages mounting, sometimes the legal procedures of deportation can take years, during which migration law infringers are allowed to stay and work in Lithuania.
Besides, in the court wrangling in their defense, the law abusers successfully wield the pile of EU laws and main human rights conventions, staving off deportation for as long as possible.
Caritas deems fake marriages a means of slavery
But to some, like Lithuanian Caritas, a Catholic humanitarian institution, fake marriages mean quite another thing - a new form of human trafficking and trade.
“Though fictitious marriages are not categorized as human trafficking and trade, we see the same levers being used as in cases of forced prostitution, labor slavery and victim recruitment. As a rule, criminals arraigning sham marriages with women - EU citizens - opt for socially vulnerable women and in recruiting them use deception, coercion and often threaten them physically to break their spirits.
Once a fake marriage is registered, the girls and women become even more vulnerable and they are often forcibly turned into prostitutes, while their ID papers are forcefully taken away or used for taking out bank loans. We do believe that we have to heed the issue and, thereafter, look for threats a lot more closely. Meanwhile, the pre-trial investigations law enforcement should demand a lot stricter responsibility from organizers of the ‘business,’” Kristina Misieniene, coordinator of Lithuanian Caritas’ project “Assistance to Prostitution and Human Trafficking Victims,” pointed out to The Baltic Times.
Better roof over head in UK than nothing at home
But that doesn’t deter thousands of women across the Baltics from nodding to the proposal to receive money for participating in a sham marriage license. Nearly 1,000 Latvian citizens struck fictitious marriages over the last couple of years in Ireland, reported BBC.
“Though often such gambles end up in the women’s slavery and abuse, the number of potential brides doesn’t recede,” concludes Britain’s public broadcaster.
Like in the rest of the Baltics, fake marriages as a means to obtain the desired citizenship and the right of free travel within the EU became very popular after Latvia’s accession to the European Union six years ago. “That is a problem of the entire Eastern Europe, where the living standards are significantly lower. It would be appropriate to think that we are the main women exporters. If a young girl sees an opportunity to earn better pay abroad by getting married to a man who is ready to pay her big bucks, then no explanatory work can help her hold up at home,” Richard Kozlovskis, Latvia’s Interior minister, told BBC.
Vija Busha, advisor at the Latvian Embassy in Ireland, maintained that some 1,000 sham marriages involving Latvian citizens have been logged in the last years. But the diplomat says that the talks of “big pay” for the girls exchanging marital vows with Pakistani or Indian men are “far from truth.”
“Instead of money, at best they often get just a roof over their head and maybe a cell phone. But even that makes them happy, as the surroundings they lived in in Latvia were so poor that the new status quo in Ireland satisfies them,” Busha said.