ONE-in-six civil marriages in Ireland are believed to be fake, according to a new documentary.
The TV3 documentary reveals how Ireland has become the sham marriage capital of Europe because it isn’t against the law here to marry in order to secure a visa.
Registrars in Ireland have to legally pronounce brides and grooms as man and wife even though they plainly don’t speak the same language.
The documentary uncovers how Eastern European brides are bought and sold by brokers and often forced to marry complete strangers on Irish soil to secure residency visas for grooms, mainly from Pakistan and India.
The Asian grooms desperate to stay in Ireland pay fees of up to €4,000 to brokers to marry brides, sent mainly from Latvia, in rural Irish registry offices as tying the knot with an EU citizen allows them to stay in Europe for five more years.
Latvian police tell how they have been investigating claims of false imprisonment, rape and human trafficking in Ireland for the past two years.
The Latvian ambassador to Ireland, Peteris Elferts, said he is very concerned about the number of women from his country being deceived and often forced by brokers into marriages of convenience.
He said: “Sometimes when the women are deceived into participating in the sham marriage their telephone is taken away, their passport is taken away and they are basically held hostage.”
The documentary, Ireland’s Sham Marriages, exposes how the Latvian women, desperate to escape poverty, are rarely paid the fees they are promised and are often kept hostage by their grooms.
Under an EU directive, which was given effect in the Republic in 2006, the non-EU spouses and family members of EU citizens have the right to live in Ireland and travel freely within the union. Since 2006, the number of non-EU emigrants granted residency in Ireland based on marriages to Eastern European women has more than doubled.
While marriage registrars in other European countries such as Germany and France can cancel or postpone a marriage if they suspect it is a sham, Irish registrars are powerless to stop a fake marriage due to the lack of laws on civil unions.
Many of these unions take place in rural registry offices where there is often less of a waiting list.
A Latvian translator, who did not wish to be identified, said he was present at a number of unions which were clearly false marriages.
He said of one such union: “There were no kisses, no ring. It wasn’t real whatsoever.
“There was one picture taken of the husband and wife and that was it.”
A landmark ruling in the High Court in February ruled that gardaí had no power to prevent non-EU citizens from entering marriages of convenience for immigration purposes.
The Latvian ambassador Mr Elferts said these marriages are quite clearly being faked for visas in Ireland.
He said: “There are cases for example where a couple will come and they don’t speak a common language. It’s quite clear it’s a sham.
Reporter Paul Connolly exposes one Nigerian broker of fake marriages who charges up to €4,000 for the supply of Eastern European brides.
A Pakistani broker is also filmed by the undercover reporter, looking for brides from Latvia for money.
Latvian author Aleksandra Jolkina, who has written a book on the sham marriages being carried out in Ireland, said: “The sums which are being paid now to recruit a bride from Latvia are between €4,000 and €6,000.
“This money gets into the pockets of the organisers while the women practically receive nothing
“Mostly they’re young girls in their 20s; some of them already have children and come from very poor families and also have experience of domestic violence and domestic abuse and it is quite easy to recruit them.
“They use violence, rape and they can be locked up in a room and not allowed to go anywhere.
“They are completely dependent on the recruiters. They have no money. I would call them victims of human trafficking.
* Paul Connolly Investigates: Ireland’s Sham Marriages will be shown on TV3 tonight at 9pm.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved
More in this section