EUROPE’S LAS VEGAS?: Eastern European women find a quick fix in Ireland.
RIGA - Destitute young women from Eastern Europe are risking serious danger coming to Ireland for fake marriages, arranged by Pakistanis and Africans aiming to gain EU citizenship illegally, writes Jim Cusack in the Sunday Independent, reports news agency LETA. Latvian police contacted the Guard of the Peace of Ireland last year after they received reports that young women from Latvia, who had come to Ireland for illegal marriages with men from Pakistan and a number of African countries, had in some cases suffered from violence.
The Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) established Operation Charity and began tracking cases where Eastern European girls are brought to Ireland for ‘convenience,’ or sham, marriages. Ireland is a particular target for organized Pakistani criminals specializing in fake marriages.
The police are entitled to bring prosecutions in cases where trafficking or sexual, or physical violence was observed. The authorities can also step forward in case of fake documents. However, as a result of a 2008 judgement by the European Court of Justice overruling Ireland’s immigration laws, the authorities cannot prosecute people over the sham marriages alone. The Baltic States’ brides are EU citizens and have the right to be there.
The extent of the counterfeiting showed a high degree of organization and is linked to the equally well organized operation of sham marriages between young men illegally in Ireland and girls from the Baltic States who have come to Ireland to enter into marriages in exchange for money. The illicit operation has been running for years but was only picked up last year after a series of successful prosecutions in the UK by border police who uncovered and broke up several of these marriage rackets. In the past year, courts in Britain have handed down sentences of up to four years for ‘assisting unlawful immigration.’
Irish law was contested in the European Court of Justice in 2008. Immediately after the European Court ruling, the number of apparent marriages of convenience between illegal immigrants and girls from the Baltics shot up, from 544 cases in 2008 to 1,100 cases last year. Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, who has been lobbying support from other EU justice ministers for changes to EU law, commented recently that the “love affair between Pakistan and the Baltic States has no sign of abating.”
The police in Ireland have found that the girls are being brought from Latvia mostly to come to the Registrar’s with the assumed groom; the couple fills in the required forms and then leaves the country. When the authorities visit the addresses given by the just-married-couples, they often find that the girls are back in Latvia, “visiting family members.”
If a bride and groom turn to the Circuit Family Court or High Court, the three-month waiting period before the submitting of all the forms and the marriage registering act can be avoided, and the couple can be married straight away. This has happened on several occasions, the Garda have found, as the courts generally give permission. Thus it is relatively easy for an illegal immigrant to marry an EU native girl and thereby receive EU, or, in particular, Irish citizenship. The price for an intended immigrant to get an EU-wife and apply to stay in Ireland as a de facto EU citizen is said to be 10,000 euros, paid to his imported bride.
The ‘fixers’ work for organizations that advertise in publications throughout the Baltic States looking for potential brides.
Latvia and the other Baltic States have been hit hard by the economic crisis, with major job losses. Unemployment rates are around 17 per cent, while state benefits are tiny compared to those available here and are stopped entirely after nine months. Public sector pay was cut in some instances by up to 40 percent.
Many of the girls responding to the ads are destitute and desperate, say the Garda. The offer is generally of 2,000 euros in cash, plus flights and accommodation. Some of the Pakistani marriage gangs offer to pay up to 10,000 euros, but the police believe such sums have never actually been paid.
Ireland and Denmark were both effectively prevented by the European Court of Justice ruling in 2008 to deal with the fake marriages, and both countries have been campaigning for change. In Denmark, the bogus marriages have become political as one of the partners in its coalition government is threatening to pull out unless preventative measures can be put in place. In Denmark, like in Ireland, police can only interfere and stop the marriage due to other immigration offenses, such as fake documents.
The official data show that in 2009, out of 384 Pakistani applications, 110 were based on marriages to Latvian EU citizens, 50 were marriages to Polish citizens, and 47 marriages were to Estonians. Immigration authorities are now monitoring all applications by foreign nationals to marry EU citizens in Ireland. In each separate case they investigate the nature of the immigrant’s status, and if he is illegally in the country, he will be pursued, they say.