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Number of foreign couples attempting to marry in Ireland drops 58% since new laws

Gardaí are now using new laws to tackle sham marriages.

Image: Shutterstock/Tan Shing Yeou

THE NUMBER OF people from different backgrounds attempting to marry in Ireland has been more than halved since the introduction of sham marriage legislation.

Figures released to TheJournal.ie by the Department of Social Protection show that, in comparative periods between 2015 and 2016, the number of marriage notifications between non-Irish EU and non-EU nationals fell by 58%, from 1,175 to 497.

Gardáí set up a dedicated operation – codenamed Vantage – two years ago to tackle an alleged trafficking ring which was using women who had been trafficked illegally into Ireland to take part in sham marriages.

Security sources say that there were ‘hundreds’ of attempted sham marriages in recent years involving the women, who are EU citizens, and men who are predominantly from Asia and seeking to secure residency in Ireland”.

The illegal activity mostly comes from countries such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In many cases, the women do not where they are and many have never even seen the men they are marrying.

There are also fears that many of the women brought in to Ireland for the purposes of marriages of convenience have been the victims of trafficking.

New figures from the annual Trafficking in Persons Report 2016, published last month, showed that the number of people who were the victims of human trafficking here has increased.

The report, which was published by the US government, was also critical of a lot of Ireland’s current strategies.

It read: “The government maintained victim protection efforts, but lacked specialised accommodation for female victims and had deficiencies in its victim identification, referral, and compensation process.

“Authorities identified 95 suspected trafficking victims in 2016, compared with 78 in 2015 and 46 in 2014. Of the victims identified in 2016, 52 were exploited in sex trafficking, 38 in labour trafficking, one in both sex and labour trafficking, and four in forced criminality in the selling of heroin. 50 were female and 45 were male.”

Trafficking

The increase in male victims compared to last year was driven by one case involving 23 Romanian male victims. Victims identified in 2016 in Ireland included 39 individuals from Romania, 19 Irish children, 10 from Nigeria, and the rest from Eastern Europe, Africa, South Asia, and South America. Seventy percent of victims were EU nationals.

The Migrant Rights Council of Ireland said that it had not dealt with any cases of this kind and hit out at what they called “racial profiling” of couples.

A spokeswoman for the group said: “We are concerned with ethnic profiling of immigrants who want to marry. Ethnic profiling is a type of racial discrimination carried out by people in positions of authority, who target people – in this case for marriage – but rely on stereotypes about ethnicity rather than reasonable suspicion.

“Trafficking is a complex area and currently there is a huge problem in the state in terms of identification. The High Court has highlighted the lack of procedures in place to identify cases of trafficking. This law is not a suitable measure to combat trafficking.”

Nusha Yonkova, anti-trafficking manager at the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said it is worrying that victim identification in Ireland has not been improved despite numerous signals from courts and practitioners that Ireland is failing victims.

She said: “The Immigrant Council of Ireland and its colleagues working in the area have long been concerned that asylum-seekers cannot be identified as victims of trafficking if they have an asylum proceeding pending. Not only does this mean we are under-identifying victims, it also means many survivors are not able to access the supports they are entitled to.

“On this note we welcome the Government’s plans to examine a new model for victim identification and issue a revised national referral mechanism in 2017 and would in addition urge it to consider establishing an independent national rapporteur.”

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