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Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution, HESTIA

Co-funded by the Prevention of and Fight against Crime Programme of the European Union
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. https://ec.europa.eu/anti-trafficking/

Findings from the HESTIA Project presented at the EU NREMs meeting

08.12.2016. On 5 December 2016 the meeting of the Informal EU Network of National Rapporteurs or Equivalent Mechanisms (NREMs) co-chaired by the Slovak Presidency of the EU and the EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator (European Commission) took place in Brussels, Belgium.

A Manager of the Project “Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution” (HESTIA), National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator Ms Lāsma Stabiņa presented findings from the HESTIA Project. It was highlighted that the HESTIA Project Research has analysed the links between trafficking in human beings and sham marriages and determined a term “exploitative sham marriages” to capture the “essence” of the phenomenon studied. Exploitative sham marriages - marriages concluded between EU nationals and third country nationals in order for the third country nationals to obtain a residence permit in the EU and including exploitative elements.

The phenomenon of exploitative sham marriages is to a large extent gender-based, where most of the potential victims are women originating from EU countries. The recruiters especially target women who are in financial difficulties, have a history of social exclusion, a low level of education, lack language skills, have diagnosed mental disabilities, or come from a dysfunctional family background.

The exploitative sham marriages contain all elements of trafficking in human beings:

- actions (recruitment, transportation, concealment, accommodation, reception) – potential victims were recruited mainly via social networks as well via the Internet, direct recruitment is small-scale and often carried out face-to-face by unorganised recruiters, such as family members, friends, employers and acquaintances; the travel tickets were commonly bought by the organisers, and sent to the women e.g. via e-mail, the women either travelled alone, with a friend, or when several women were recruited at the same time, they also often travelled as a group; the women were met (usually at the airport) either by the organisers, middlemen, the grooms, or by the groom’s relatives;

- means - by using means of deceit:  the victims are lured with false promises and fake job offers and opportunities; by using violence or threats or by taking advantage of the dependence of the person on the offender or of his or her state of vulnerability or helplessness; by the giving or obtaining of material benefits or benefits of another nature in order to procure the consent of such person, upon which the victim is dependent;

- exploitation - sexual slavery (violence); domestic servitude; forced criminality (e.g. recruiting more women into sham marriage); benefit fraud (ID used for obtaining loans and credits) and

- means of control - physical violence; sexual violence; economic violence/control, debt bondage; restrictions of the movement, deprivation of personal freedom; ID documents are kept by the organiser(s) and/or on the spouse; dependency on the organiser(s) and/or on the spouse; forced criminality (e.g. recruiting more women into sham marriage); measures that prevent victim from leaving; abuse of position of vulnerability (a person does not speak local language, does not know rights, whom to approach, is afraid).

L.Stabiņa approached the EU Member States and the European Commission with the following recommendations:

- To implement EU-level recommendations provided by the HESTIA Project Research Report encouraging the European Union Member States to strengthen their policy framework, international cooperation, victim assistance, awareness-raising, training of different professional groups as well as provision of further research and data collection

- To apply provisions and requirements provided by Council Resolution of 4 December 1997 on measures to be adopted on the combating of marriages of convenience (Official Journal C 382 , 16/12/1997 P. 0001 – 0002)

- To consider opportunities to supplement the Recital 11 of the Preamble of the Directive 2011/36/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 April 2011 on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, and replacing Council Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA with a new form of trafficking in human beings «exploitative sham marriages»

It is worth mentioning that the implementation of the HESTIA Project was started during the Latvian Presidency of the EU Council and is now ending with the closure of Slovak Presidency.

Presentation – "Exploitative Sham Marriages - A New Form of Human Trafficking"<<

Policy Paper “Exploitative Sham Marriages: Exploring the Links between Human Trafficking and Sham Marriages” developed by HEUNI.

*The Project is coordinated by the Ministry of the Interior (Latvia). Project partners: NGO "Shelter ‘Safe House’" (Latvia), NGO "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Associated Project partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).

The "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement No. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. The implementation of the HESTIA project was started on 1 January 2015 and will continue until 31 December 2016. #HESTIA_THB https://ec.europa.eu/anti-trafficking/

Information published by: Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the HESTIA project, e-mail: rasa.salina@gmail.com


Experts from 13 countries meet at the HESTIA Project conference

24.11.2016. On 14 – 15 November, 2016 Riga hosted an international conference “Exploitative Sham Marriages: Exploring the Links between Trafficking in Human Beings and Sham Marriages” where findings and best practise acquired during the implementation of the HESTIA Project “Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution” were presented and shared. In total 60 experts representing various professional anti-trafficking areas from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, the Slovak Republic, Cyprus, Portugal, Greece, the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Norway and the Council of the Baltic Sea States participated.

“A lot of discussions are taking place on issues related to trafficking in human beings, about trauma and negative consequences for victims and society resulting from this criminal offence, as well as profits which traffickers, recruiters and users gain and enormous daily counter-trafficking work implemented to reduce trafficking in human beings. Statistical data confirms that trafficking in human beings does not reduce, a number of victims increase every year. New forms of exploitation has been identified which are very complicated to recognize and identify. Exploitative sham marriages is one of such forms of trafficking in human beings. It is no more a new phenomenon, but it is a phenomenon which is named by the team of the HESTIA Project. Organizers of the conference have prepared a comprehensive Agenda of the conference which is based on the first research done in the European Union about trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sham marriages as well as practise of public institutions and non-governmental organizations to identify such cases and victims of exploitation” highlighted Mr Rihards Kozlovskis, Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Latvia in his conference opening speech. “Our presence at this conference is an acknowledgement for our joint goal – to address trafficking in human beings, convict perpetrators, identify and assist victims of trafficking in human beings.”

During the opening of the conference Mr Kozlovskis presented the award “Goda raksts” of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Latvia to Ms Vija Buša, Advisor of the Planning Group of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, a former Advisor at the Embassy of the Republic of Latvia in Ireland for her exceptional commitment to provide interests and needs of Latvian citizens who had become victims of trafficking in human beings in Ireland, provision of efficient inter-institutional cooperation and making topical an issue of sham marriages which had provided grounds for implementation of the HESTIA Project.

A Manager of the HESTIA Project, National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator Ms Lāsma Stabiņa informed that findings from the HESTIA Project will be presented at the meeting of the Informal EU Network of National Rapporteurs or Equivalent Mechanisms (NREMs) and the meeting of Working Party on General Matters, including Evaluations (GENVAL) which will be held in Brussels, Belgium. L.Stabiņa highlighted: “We are planning to approach the EU Member States, the Council and the Commission that strong political will and commitment are needed to address the phenomenon of exploitative sham marriages at the whole European Union. Exploitative sham marriages is a challenge of the present time which cannot be ignored. Targeted decisions and actions should be taken to criminalize exploitative sham marriages as a form of trafficking in human beings, strengthen institutional capacity and resources to recognize such cases, provide help, assistance and measures of protection to victims, bring to trial those who benefit from the exploitation of individuals and stop flourishing of this criminal business and gaining of illegal profits.”

Project deliverables:

Research report: EXPLOITATIVE SHAM MARRIAGES: EXPLORING THE LINKS BETWEEN HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND SHAM MARRIAGES IN ESTONIA, IRELAND, LATVIA, LITHUANIA AND SLOVAKIA

Methodical material: Reduction of Exploitative Sham Marriages: Training for Trainers Training

*The Project is coordinated by the Ministry of the Interior (Latvia). Project partners: NGO "Shelter ‘Safe House’" (Latvia), NGO "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Associated Project partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).

The "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement No. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. The implementation of the HESTIA project was started on 1 January 2015 and will continue until 31 December 2016. #HESTIA_THB https://ec.europa.eu/anti-trafficking/

Information prepared by: Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the HESTIA project, e-mail: rasa.salina@gmail.com


The Study Defines a New Concept of "Exploitative Sham Marriages" and Proposes Recommendations for their Reduction

21.10.2016. Today, the results of the project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA)* were presented at the dissemination briefing organised by the Ministry of the Interior (MoI). The main goal of the project initiated in January 2015 and co-funded by the European Union (EU) "Prevention of and Fight Against Crime" programme was to seek correlations and explore the phenomenon of sham marriages in the context of human trafficking and to propose comprehensive action for their prevention. One of the major activities to achieve the project objective was a joint research covering five countries, i.e., Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ireland and Slovakia, which took place over a 20-month period. At the start of the project, national meetings were organised to discuss sham marriages and their links to human trafficking, leading to the creation of expert groups and multidisciplinary teams of practitioners to discuss the issue of trafficking in human beings at the national level.

HESTIA project team defined a new concept, "exploitative sham marriages", and concluded that the phenomenon is closely linked to human trafficking for forced sham marriages. It was found that the phenomenon is to a large extent essentially gender-based, where most of the potential victims are women originating from EU countries while the majority of the third country nationals involved are men.

„In all of the five countries studied, the researchers identified different forms of exploitation which have taken place in the context of sham marriages concluded between female EU citizens and male third country nationals. Some of the identified cases included very clear elements of force, coercion, deception and exploitation, and even human trafficking,” noted Minna Viuhko, lead researcher of the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI).

HESTIA project team has stated that human trafficking is a crime where the collection of data is impaired not only by the hidden nature of the crime but also by the wide scope of definitions and concepts that might be applicable. The project utilised a pilot methodology developed and applied by HEUNI for exploring human trafficking for forced labour. This methodology is based on collecting information from a large variety of sources and incorporates both qualitative and quantitative information sources.

Based on the research guidelines provided by HEUNI, between February 2015 and September 2016, the project partners in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ireland and Slovakia carried out empirical research on the situation in their country, altogether conducting 72 interviews with experts from different areas and victims of exploitative sham marriages. Having summarised the national reports by all countries, the experts came to several conclusions. The main are:

  • human trafficking is criminalised in the national laws of all five countries;
  • there is convincing evidence that the methods of recruitment for exploitative sham marriages and for human trafficking are the same: the victims are lured with false promises and fake job offers and opportunities;
  • in most cases the victims began to become aware of the reality of the situation only in the destination country;
  • all the research reports identified various forms of exploitation, and different methods of control. Threats and psychological control, sexual and physical violence, financial control, and economic violence were used to control the women.

The findings and recommendations of the project research at the EU level are aimed at strengthening the political systems of the EU Member States, international cooperation, and assistance to victims, training of different professional groups, increasing the level of awareness, as well as conducting further research on the issue of human trafficking and collection of data. The full text of the report is available on the following website:

Summary of the Report

"The project research report not only clearly identified links between human trafficking and sham marriages, but also provided the basis for the development of training methodologies", emphasised Lāsma Stabiņa, National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator (MoI) and Manager of the HESTIA Project. "For all the participating countries, the project was the first attempt to systematically evaluate and address exploitative sham marriages and their links to human trafficking. We are pleased that we have been able to develop an information platform which is based on knowledge and arguments, so that the EU Member States could proceed with an in-depth evaluation of the situation and instruments for action in their countries enabling them to take effective measures against the phenomenon of sham marriages and human trafficking".

The plans are to present the project results, conclusions and recommendations at a meeting of the European Union Informal Network of National Rapporteurs or Equivalent Mechanisms on Trafficking in Human Beings in December in Brussels.

To increase knowledge and awareness of professionals from different areas about exploitative sham marriages and their links to human trafficking, a series of workshops developed by the NGO "Shelter ‘Safe House’" were organised this September and October for future animators in all five countries.

In Latvia, five two-day training seminars were held from 14.09 to 18.10, where knowledge and practical skills were gained by 184 professionals of different areas from all over Latvia: social workers, employees of family courts, libraries, educational institutions, extra-familial care institutions, state and local police officers, prosecutors, and NGO activists. Altogether, 58 Latvian provinces were represented. Already today the participants of the workshops are sharing the information obtained with their workforce and initiating reflection on the human trafficking issue in their provinces by both organising awareness-raising events themselves and preparing publications for their local newspapers and informing the population of their provinces, towns and parishes throughout Latvia. The participants will proceed with educational work until 30 November of this year.

With the purpose of informing about human trafficking risks, a preventive campaign is launched in Latvia during which billboards will be placed in Riga and an informative video on human trafficking issues developed by Latvian advertising agency GO!AHEAD will be distributed on the internet. To watch the video and find out more about the preventive activities of human trafficking, visit the national information resource devoted to the reduction of human trafficking and current developments in Latvia at: www.cilvektirdznieciba.lv.

*The Project is coordinated by the Ministry of the Interior (Latvia). Project partners: NGO "Shelter ‘Safe House’" (Latvia), NGO "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Associated Project partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).

The "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement No. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. The implementation of the HESTIA project was started on 1 January 2015 and will continue until 31 December 2016. #HESTIA_THB https://ec.europa.eu/anti-trafficking/

Information prepared by: Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the HESTIA project, e-mail: rasa.salina@gmail.com


HESTIA project partners are preparing for ambitious anti-trafficking activities

03.07.2016. Implementing the project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) on 28 – 30 June 2016 project partners from Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Ireland and Finland met at the project’s coordination meeting in Bratislava (Slovak Republic) hosted by the project’s Slovak partner – Ministry of the Interior.

The meeting was opened by Ms Petra Barnova, Head of the Secretary of the Governmental Council for Crime Prevention who highlighted the importance of cross-border cooperation and inter-governmental support to address trafficking in human beings efficiently and more targeted.

During the meeting the main focus was put on two topics – development of the Research Report and Multidisciplinary Training: development of training methodology and materials.

European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) presented the preliminary findings of the research and the draft research report which will be made publicly available during the anti-trafficking week when the European Union Anti-Trafficking Day is marked in all EU Member States. The HESTIA Research Report will be officially published on the 18th of October. The Research Report contains the research and five national reports done by Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania and the Slovak Republic and it focuses very much on the commonalities and differences related to exploitative sham marriages in the project partner countries, terminology, conceptual and methodological issues. Particular topics – recruitment tactics, target groups, perpetrators, forms of exploitation and control, role of organized crime – are explored in the research.

The Training Methodology developed by the society “Shelter “Safe House”” and the State Police (LV) in cooperation with HEUNI was discussed in details to be sure that it provides understanding and guidance for counter-trafficking activities for trainees about the topic of sham marriages and trafficking in human beings and could be further adapted by every EU Member States to provide anti-trafficking trainings for practitioners.

Autumn 2016 is approaching with a set of anti-trafficking measures – pilot trainings for multi-disciplinary groups, awareness raising campaigns marking the EU Anti-Trafficking Day and debriefing meetings in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovak Republic and Ireland. Finishing the project Latvia will host an international conference on 14 – 15 November and the results, conclusions and recommendations will be presented at a meeting of the European Union Informal Network of National Rapporteurs or Equivalent Mechanisms on Trafficking in Human Beings in December in Brussels.

HESTIA project partners: Ministry of the Interior (Latvia), NGO "Shelter “Safe House"" (Latvia), NGO "Mittetulundusühing"" "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Project associated partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).

*Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB

Information prepared by: Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the project HESTIA, e-mail: rasa.salina@gmail.com


A new global trend in human trafficking – trafficking in human beings for the purpose of forced criminality

22.04.2016. On 11-12 April of this year Vienna, Austria, hosted the 16th high level Alliance against Trafficking in Persons Conference “Combating Trafficking in Human Beings for the Purpose of Forced Criminality” of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), during which discussions were held on the currently topical form of human trafficking – trafficking in human beings for the purpose of forced criminality.

Latvia was represented at the conference by a delegation of competent institutions (Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Justice, State Police, Office of the Prosecutor General, City of Riga Latgale District Court, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Latvia to the UN, OSCE, and other international organisations in Vienna), thus attesting to Latvia’s interest, readiness and aspirations in ensuring effective measures and interinstitutional cooperation in the prevention and combatting of human trafficking.

From left: Salvis Rūtiņš, Sintija Dzalbe, Lāsma Stabiņa, Baiba Jakobsone, Armands Lubarts

The conference was opened and the participants of the conference were addressed by Ambassador Madina Jarbussynova, OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings, Eberhard Pohl, Chairperson of the Permanent Council of OSCE, Lamberto Zannier, OSCE Secretary General, and Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, United Nations Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children. During the opening speeches of the conference the main emphasis was placed on the strengthening of efforts in preventing and combatting trafficking in human beings, strengthening of interinstitutional cooperation on a national and international level, connection between social and legal matters and trafficking in human beings for the purpose of forced criminality, national and international challenges in the prosecution, observation and guaranteeing of the rights of victims of human trafficking, identification of victims and the provision of assistance to them, as well as matters related to the forcing of underaged persons, who are the most vulnerable and unprotected group of society, to commit crimes.

One of the main challenges of the investigative authorities – seeing a crime within a crime. Forced commitment of a crime is one of the forms of human trafficking that is the most difficult to identify; it is hard to see a causal relationship between human trafficking and the crime committed by the victim of human trafficking. There is a trend of families exploiting their children. These children do not feel like victims, as they think that they are a part of the “family business”.

Sham marriages – a common form of human trafficking

During the conference the Latvian delegation provided information on its successful practice in combatting human trafficking for the purpose of the conclusion of sham marriages and in the implementation of the international project “Preventing Human Trafficking and Sham Marriages: A Multidisciplinary Solution” (HESTIA)*. By foreseeing criminal liability for ensuring a person with a possibility to legally acquire the right to stay in the Republic of Latvia, another member state of the EU, member state of the European Economic Area or in the Swiss Confederation in bad faith, Latvia has ensured the possibility of calling the following persons to justice: persons who organise and support sham marriages, recruit persons for the conclusion of sham marriages, as well as the persons who knowingly agree to marriages that are not aimed at establishing a family but at ensuring third country nationals with the possibility to legally acquire a residence permit in the European Union. The respective regulatory framework achieves a preventive objective – the person has to assess the possible benefits of the deal, as well as its legal consequences. Therefore the possible risks of human trafficking are also decreased. According to Section 154.2 of the Criminal Law, in Latvia human trafficking for the purpose of concluding a sham marriage is qualified as the compulsion of a person to provide a service if the aim of the crime is the receipt of a residence permit, whereas, if the aim is to obtain a person (a “wife”), then the respective crime is qualified as a form of slavery. During the speech the participants of the conference were informed that the research is being carried out within the framework of the HESTIA project, and it will provide a common understanding and recommendations for coordinated and efficient actions of the European Union member states in order to prevent human trafficking for the purpose of sham marriages. Speech in English is available here<<

A representative of the Cyprus Police provided information on human trafficking for the purpose of sham marriages. Sham marriages in Cyprus are organised by organised criminal groups. The women who are brought to Cyprus are citizens of the European Union who come mainly from Latvia, Romania, and Bulgaria; they are not educated, are in a vulnerable position, and they are brought there fraudulently and are deceived about the actual working conditions in Cyprus. After arriving in Cyprus the women are housed with their future husbands, their personal identification documents are taken away, they are informed about the true reason for them coming to Cyprus, i.e. to get married to a third country national, and the women are subjected to constant control. The representative from Cyprus admitted that the involved authorities have indicators proving that the system is being misused, but they are not able to link it to human trafficking.

Policy recommendations for combatting trafficking in human beings for the purpose of forced criminality

It is necessary to ensure comprehensive training of policemen, public prosecutors and judges regarding trafficking in human beings for the purpose of forced criminality in order for it to be possible to identify the crime of human trafficking within another crime, especially in cases when the victims are kept at a temporary custody or imprisonment institution and are subjected to prosecution or are tried for crimes committed. It is difficult to identify victims of human trafficking who commit crimes because the investigation of human trafficking falls within the competence of specific structural units of law enforcement institutions, and usually “ordinary” police workers are the ones who are the first to come into contact with victims of human trafficking who commit crimes, since the crimes that are committed by victims of human trafficking are often related to theft, robbery, fraud, smuggling etc. In such cases the “ordinary” police workers might have problems with the identification of human trafficking. Special emphasis was placed on the role of public prosecutors and judges, as well as the need to improve their understanding and professional capacity regarding the application of the non-punishment principle, i.e. not punishing victims of human trafficking for crimes that have been committed by them while being subjected to human trafficking.

*Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB


 

Alertness in the fight against sham marriages still present

21.03.2016. In short:

  • 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.

European Union member states are concerned about dealing with the enormous flow of asylum seekers. Whereas the aim of the asylum seekers themselves is to find ways and solutions to acquire the rights for free movement within the Schengen Area as legally as possible and to acquire permanent residency rights in their desired host countries. For this purpose sham marriages may be used, which is actually a form of human trafficking that has caused a lot of problems and even suffering to Latvian nationals – victims of sham marriages – already before the so-called refugee crisis.

Lāsma Stabiņa, National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator (Ministry of the Interior) and Manager of the HESTIA* project

  

It is difficult to assess physical or moral traumas for a person resulted from forced enter into a sham marriage against her own will. 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 European Union. The respective person is employed against her own will, whereas the documents are used to obtain credit and loans. 

At the moment it is difficult to predict to what extent the inflow of asylum seekers in Europe and the future migration processes will affect the involvement of Latvian citizens in sham marriages, but it is indicated in Europol’s 18th February publication of this year that the migration crisis in North Africa and the Middle East will have a major impact on the trafficking of human beings, and there is also an assumption provided that attempts to gain legitimate residency within the European Union will result in more forced marriages of convenience. The main countries of origin of victims of sham marriages that are mentioned in the Europol report are the eastern member states of the European Union – including 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. Many of these cases originate, for example, in Ireland, which is now the home country of many Latvian citizens.

Whereas over the last year there were 71 marriages registered between Latvian citizens and third country citizens, statistically taking up a stable second place behind Portugal, 122 marriages of such sort were concluded between citizens of Portugal and third countries. Certainly, not all civil acts are fictious, but, as practice shows, almost half of such marriages have not been concluded with the aim to establish a family, but in order for third country nationals to acquire a residence permit in the European Union. As one can see, the number of marriages between Latvian nationals and third country citizens has decreased at least in Ireland. This has been promoted by public awareness campaigns and activities in Latvia, as well as the regulatory framework of our state 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.

(It is necessary to give a reminder that the deliberate and willing conclusion of a sham marriage for remuneration is a criminal offence against the state, for which the organisers of such marriages, as well as recruiters, intermediaries, and persons entering into a sham marriage are to be held criminally responsible, and according to Section 285.2 of the Criminal Law may be punished with deprivation of liberty for a term of up to five years.)
Positive results have also been provided through the education of those specialists and practitioners in Latvian regions who are working directly with groups of citizens that are most at risk and that could be persuaded or deceived by human traffickers by luring the respective people abroad and forcing them to enter into a sham marriage.

A significant contribution has also been provided by initiatives of the Irish government by increasing the powers of marriage registrants to refuse the registration of suspicious marriages and inform the authorities about such cases, as well as by forming a specialised police unit, the main task of which is to combat such illegal activities.

Collaboration on an international level

The fight against sham marriages has been expanded to a multinational level of cooperation: during January of the previous year the international project “Preventing Human Trafficking and Sham Marriages: A Multidisciplinary Solution” (HESTIA) was started under the leadership of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Latvia, and it is being implemented with the support of Directorate General of Home Affairs of European Commission “Prevention of and Fight against Crime Programme”.

There are significant aims and objectives for solving the respective problem determined within the project – forming awareness about sham marriages as a form of human trafficking and a criminal offence against a person, developing specific methodology for specialists and practitioners in order for it to be possible to prevent possible human trafficking, identify human trafficking cases and victims, and provide them with state and local government support and assistance.

Partners of the HESTIA project from Estonia, Lithuania, Ireland, Slovakia, and Finland have provided information about the project, its goals and the researched problem at various national, regional and international events, and as a result it is already possible to observe that an understanding regarding the problem is forming among EU member states and a desire to combat this new form of human trafficking is growing.

On 11 and 12 April of this year Vienna will host the high level conference “Alliance against Trafficking in Persons”, organised by Ambassador Madina Jarbussynova, OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. The main theme of this event will be human trafficking for forced criminality. The Latvian delegation is invited to promote a discussion on sham marriages as a new form and trend of human trafficking during the conference.

In the current political conditions it is of utmost importance to continue to raise public awareness about the possibility of human trafficking and its forms, by directly addressing those groups of Latvian citizens that are subjected to the risk of human trafficking. Those are members of the society who are in the situation of vulnerability, convince and persuade due to various reasons, as there might be a situation of vulnerability when the respective people do not have any acceptable or real choice for further living and they do not have the experience to make decisions on their own and act on behalf of their future. They are mostly young people (especially from orphanages), individuals with mental or physical health problems, people who have been out of work for a long time, or have credit liabilities, debts.

It is very important to help these socially vulnerable people in solving their problems, so that the situation does not worsen and they do not accept tempting but unfair offers to earn “easy” money abroad, thus also concluding marriages with third country nationals and frequently getting into cruel enslavement.

Sham marriages are not common in Latvia

There are no cases of Latvian citizens forcibly entering into sham marriages with third country nationals identified within our own state. According to data of the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, in 2013, temporary residence permits issued in Latvia were terminated in three cases (in which sham marriages were concluded between Latvian citizens and citizens from Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Ukraine), whereas in 2014, there was only one temporary residence permit that was terminated, and it was issued on the basis of a concluded sham marriage between a citizen of Latvia and a Jordan national. There were no signs of human trafficking identified in any of these cases. But that does not mean that we can afford to lower our guard in the fight against sham marriages

We would like to give a reminder that the society “Shelter “Safe House”” has a 24-hour helpline 28612120, and by calling it anyone can receive information about the necessary actions in a specific situation and use it as one of the resources if assistance is required in dealing with cases of human trafficking in Latvia or abroad. 

Primary source of information: portal www.lvportals.lv.

*Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB

HESTIA project partners:  Ministry of the Interior (Latvia), NGO "Shelter “Safe House"" (Latvia), NGO "Mittetulundusühing"" "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Project associated partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).

Interview author: portal www.lvportals.lv. The information was published 04.04.2016. by (in coordination with the editorial board of www.lvportals.lv): Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the project HESTIA, e-mail: rasa.salina@gmail.com


Information about the research progress of the HESTIA project provided at an international seminar

02.03.2016. 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.

During the presentation M. Viuhko introduced the participants of the seminar to the course of the research of the HESTIA project, as well as its aims and main challenges that HEUNI has faced while carrying out the research. She informed those present that the aim of the research is to study the link between sham marriages and human trafficking, provide new information about the factors of vulnerability of a person, as a result of which people get involved in sham marriages and are subjected to exploitation, and she also provided information about the methods and techniques that promote and facilitate sham marriages, the consequences of which include human trafficking and exploitation.

The researcher underlined that the research, being based on the national studies carried out within the framework of the project in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ireland, and Slovakia, is looking for interconnections and is studying the phenomenon of sham marriages in the context of human trafficking as a criminal offence against a person, when the person is used with the aim to ensure a third country national with the possibility to acquire a legal right to stay in a European Union member state, i.e. to acquire a residence permit in the European Union, as well as the further exploitation of the person deriving from it, and is not studying sham marriages as a violation and a criminal offence against the state and its legislative framework. It is the person exploitation factor that is significant within the context of the research on sham marriages.

The representative of HEUNI indicated that the main research questions, to which comprehensive answers must be provided within the study, are the following: What links are there between sham marriages and human trafficking (between the organisation of sham marriages and human trafficking)? How have the persons who have entered into sham marriages got into human trafficking/exploitation situations? To what forms of exploitation are the victims subjected? What are the weaknesses of the system/legislation/administrative procedures that facilitate and promote human trafficking in the context of the conclusion of sham marriages? What can be done to improve the identification of (human trafficking/severe exploitation) cases/victims? What could be done to improve the support for victims? What can be done to prevent exploitation? Within the scope of the research sham marriages are assessed only as marriages for the legalisation of the stay of third country nationals within the European Union; similarities and differences with regard to these sham marriages are searched for in the five partner countries of the HESTIA project. The main problems of the research are related to definitions and legal acts (what is criminalised, what should criminal liability be imposed for, elements of exploitation, elements of human trafficking).

M. Viuhko indicated that the biggest challenge of the HESTIA project is to carry out research on something that does not have a name, that has not been defined, and regarding which there is no common understanding. The challenge for developing a common understanding is formed by the different terms that are used in European Union member states to describe sham marriages, with them having the same meaning in some states and a different meaning of a marriage-related problem in other states. A completely new term – “exploitative sham marriages” – is currently being used within the scope of the research. Research is being carried out regarding in what situations the exploitative sham marriages can be considered human trafficking, with attention given to immigration laws and the fear of people regarding the use of these legal norms in bad faith, and also research is being conducted on at what moment the state system is being abused and at what moment people are being abused.

*Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB

HESTIA project partners:  Ministry of the Interior (Latvia), NGO "Shelter “Safe House"" (Latvia), NGO "Mittetulundusühing"" "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Project associated partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).

Information prepared by: Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the project HESTIA, e-mail: rasa.salina@gmail.com


  

An increase in human trafficking is anticipated due to the migration crisis

09.01.2016. 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.

The problem is also common in Latvia – there are at least 16 suspects

Over the past year the Organised Crime Combating Board (OCCB) of the State Police started three criminal proceedings in relation to human trafficking – two regarding forced marriages and one regarding sexual exploitation. According to data of the Ministry of the Interior, five people – four men and an underaged girl – have been declared as suspects The OCCB has sent two criminal proceedings against 12 persons – four women and eight men, two of whom are Pakistani nationals – to the prosecutor’s office to commence criminal prosecution. Over the past year four people were acknowledged as victims of human trafficking – an adult woman with slight signs of vulnerability and three underaged girls.

According to data of the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, 26 residence permits were terminated in Latvia during the period from 2009 to 2014 due to concluded sham marriages. In 2014, a residence permit was terminated for one Jordanian citizen, in 2013 – one citizen of Kazakhstan, as well as one Pakistani citizen and one Ukrainian citizen, in 2012 – four Russian citizens and one citizen of Cameroon, in 2011 – one Pakistani citizen, one South African citizen, one American citizen, as well as a Turkish citizen, in 2010 – two Russian and two Armenian citizens, as well as one Ukrainian citizen, whereas in 2009 – two Russian citizens, three Georgian citizens and one Armenian citizen.

Latvians become fictitious wives in Ireland

According to information of the Garda Síochána (the national police service of Ireland) that was gathered during the extensive “Operation Vantage” investigation on sham marriages, there were 1,697 marriages concluded between the EU citizens and third county citizens in Ireland during the time period from 1 November 2014 to 31 July 2015. It was possible to identify a trend that these marriages are mostly concluded between men from the Indian subcontinent and women who are citizens of the EU member states – women from Portugal, Latvia, Romania, Hungary, and Estonia.

The men who concluded these marriages in Ireland mostly came from Pakistan – 328, India – 114, and Bangladesh – 74. Whereas the women – citizens of the EU member states who got married to third country nationals – came mainly from countries such as Portugal – 237, Latvia – 71, and Hungary – 69. The respective marriages were most often concluded between citizens of Pakistan and Portugal – 122 marriages, citizens of Pakistan and Latvia – 46, and citizens of India and Portugal – 44. It is believed that most of the marriages are sham marriages.

According to data of the Garda National Immigration Bureau of Ireland, organisers of sham marriages receive between 10,000 and 15,000 euros for one concluded marriage. It is indicated that the brides receive only a small amount of this sum.

Inspection of suspicious marriages

Whilst explaining the situation in Ireland, Ms Vija Buša, Counsellor of the Embassy of the Republic of Latvia in Ireland and Head of the Consular Department, indicates that amendments to the Civil Registration Act of Ireland came into force on 18 August of the previous year, providing the possibility to intervene in suspicious marriages. At the same time as these amendments came into force the Garda Síochána (the national police service of Ireland) started realising the previously mentioned “Operation Vantage”. A group consisting of 16 detectives was created with the aim to combat sham marriages, Ms Buša explains. By using both of these options it is planned to review approximately 1,700 marriages that have been concluded over the past two years. More than 50 marriages have already been terminated, and 22 persons have been accused of providing false information or fake documents. Also several organisers of sham marriages have been arrested. Moreover, several fictive companies that provide fake documents for submission to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service with the aim to receive a residence permit have been identified. Also during the operation on 25 November of the past year around 200 Irish policemen conducted searches at 40 locations in eight counties of Ireland, placing 11 persons under arrest.

Ms Buša indicates that the Garda Síochána (the national police service of Ireland) is interested in cooperating in order to acquire evidence on sham marriages. The Irish side has thanked the Embassy of Latvia and the Latvian State Police for the good cooperation in the field of sham marriages by stating that it has been very efficient and constructive and that the necessary information has been acquired quickly, thus allowing discovery of the committed crimes, the Embassy’s representative explained.

An understanding regarding sham marriages as human trafficking is reached through cooperation between six states

On 1 January of the previous year six EU member states – Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Ireland, Slovakia, and Finland – started implementing the European Commission co-funded project “Preventing Human Trafficking and Sham Marriages: A Multidisciplinary Solution” (HESTIA)*. The project will last until the end of this year. As it is highlighted by Lāsma Stabiņa, National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator (Ministry of the Interior) and manager of this project, until the beginning of the project most of the EU member states and institutions were sceptical of the link between sham marriages and human trafficking, whereas it has now been achieved that this problem is being acknowledged more and more often. She also indicates that the ambitious goal of the HESTIA project is to solve the respective issue and offer suggestions to the European Commission in order to promote new political and legal initiatives for combatting sham marriages and human trafficking.

It is planned to address more than 700 000 people in six EU member states within the scope of the project. Discussions with the participation of legislators, policy planners and practitioners have already taken place on a national and regional level, comprehensive studies on the sham marriage issue have been prepared in each state, training methodology will be developed and training of employees from various fields will be carried out, and there will also be informative campaigns organised and other activities carried out.

Ms Stabiņa acknowledges that the previous year has been intense, productive, and, by ensuring the coordination of the HESTIA project implementation, has also provided positive emotions and satisfaction with the achieved progress, since as a result, the issue of sham marriages and human trafficking is being kept in sight as one of the top priorities in the prevention of human trafficking not only in the partner states. “The understanding regarding this phenomenon has also significantly increased in other European Union member states,” Ms Stabiņa indicates.

It is planned the work of the project will be just as intensive in 2016, as, on the basis of research results, work will be carried out on the development of training methodology that will be adapted to educate practitioners of the project’s partner states, the project manager explains. There are also extensive informative activities for the public and field specialists planned to be carried out on 18 October, which is the EU Anti-Trafficking Day.

Volumes of human trafficking to increase due to the migration crisis

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.

In this context Ms Lāsma Stabiņa, National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator and Manager of the HESTIA project, explains that the EU member states are already full of migrants who are looking for possibilities to stay in the EU legally. But it cannot be forgotten that this target group is also exposed to the risk of human trafficking, as migrants find themselves in a helpless situation. “They have left their home country and their homes, they do not know the language nor their rights, they don’t have any money. And there will always be people who will find this favourable and who will try to earn money from it. Therefore Latvia might also potentially become a target state, where people could be exploited,” Ms Stabiņa stresses. Therefore on the one hand, when taking in refugees, Latvia has to ensure an efficient action plan for fulfilling the well-being and staying requirements of the refugees in order for them to remain in the sight of the responsible institutions and non-governmental organisations, the representative of the Ministry of the Interior indicates. And on the other hand, the work that has been already started on the reduction of human trafficking cases has to be continued, by informing the public and especially the target groups subjected to the risk of human trafficking, as well as educating workers of institutions and organisations who come into contact with potential human trafficking victims during their daily work. She also highlights that it is necessary to form a law enforcement approach that is based on the identification of the crime organiser-exploiter (the true financial beneficiary) and on the confiscation of profit gained as a result of human exploitation. It is necessary to place the emphasis on the alleviation of material incentive, she adds.

It is indicated in the Europol report that the main countries of origin of sham marriage victims are the eastern member states of the EU – including Latvia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia – the citizens of which (young women) are taken to the EU’s western member states, where they are forced to enter into a sham marriage with men from Asia, usually Pakistan and India.

The report also highlights that it is not possible to identify the volumes of sham marriages due to the differing regulatory frameworks of the EU member states and the lack of joint EU legislation for combatting sham marriages. Ms Stabiņa mentions that the understanding and terminology regarding the concept of sham marriages in the context of human trafficking is very different in various EU member states. “Besides, Latvia is the only country that imposes criminal liability for the conclusion of sham marriages in Latvia and other European Union member states. Other countries have only come up with a penalty for the conclusion of sham marriages within their territory,” Ms Stabiņa explains. She stresses that the European Commission has great expectations regarding the results of the HESTIA project started under the leadership of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Latvia, because they will be used to make decisions on the following steps in the fight against human trafficking in connection with sham marriages on the level of the whole EU.

*Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB

HESTIA project partners:  Ministry of the Interior (Latvia), NGO "Shelter “Safe House"" (Latvia), NGO "Mittetulundusühing"" "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Project associated partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).

Interview author: news agency LETA. The information was published 15.04.2016. by (in coordination with the editorial board of LETA): Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the project HESTIA, e-mail: rasa.salina@gmail.com

 

HESTIA project presented at the Nordic-Baltic Network of Policewomen conference

22.10.2015. 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.

During the event Lāsma Stabiņa, National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator (Ministry of the Interior) and Manager of the HESTIA* project, informed about Latvia’s experience and good practice in the prevention and combating of sham marriages and human trafficking, as well as the HESTIA project, especially about the study and its significance in the promotion of policy recommendations on the level of the EU.

Lāsma Stabiņa, HESTIA Project, human trafficking

After the conference she indicated that this international meeting provided possibilities for improving international cooperation, exchanging the experience and good practice of countries, as well as identifying the most significant challenges in the eradication of human trafficking. “It was a great opportunity to inform the participant states of the conference about the sham marriage and human trafficking problem, Latvia’s unique experience in studying and reducing this phenomenon, as well as the interstate initiative – HESTIA project – which is already providing answers and explanations regarding the nature of the problem, and will ensure practical instruments for future activities in order for all of the states to be able to join forces and address sham marriages and human trafficking,” L. Stabiņa underlined.

Since 1 April 2013, Section 285.2 of the Criminal Law ** has come into force, and 38 criminal proceedings have been initiated in general. In 2015, 3 criminal proceedings have been initiated regarding human trafficking: two regarding sham marriages and one regarding sexual exploitation. Currently state-funded social rehabilitation services are being provided to 7 human trafficking victims (3 – Ireland, 2 – Cyprus, 1 – the USA, 1 – Latvia) at the “Resource Centre for Women “Marta””. Whereas in 2014, the society “Shelter “Safe House”” provided state-funded social rehabilitation services to 38 persons – eight men and 30 women – out of whom 12 were included in the state programme in 2013, and 20 – in 2014.

It is indicated in Europol’s THB Financial Business Model report that women are paid between 300 and 2,000 euros on average for knowingly concluded sham marriages, whereas the organised groups of criminals earn approximately 10,000 euros for the services of sham marriage promotion.

The conference was organised by the State Police of the Republic of Latvia with support of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Office in Latvia.

*Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB

HESTIA project partners:  Ministry of the Interior (Latvia), NGO "Shelter “Safe House"" (Latvia), NGO "Mittetulundusühing"" "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Project associated partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).

The information was published 15.04.2016. by: Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the project HESTIA, e-mail: rasa.salina@gmail.com

 

Sham marriages become more and more popular in Europe; refugees may also become victims of human trafficking

28.09.2015. 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.

What is the main reason for sham marriages being so popular?

In many EU member states the marriage process is very democratic, i.e. nobody checks who is getting married and what the reasons are, often nobody even pays attention to the fact that the respective man and woman are not able to communicate in one language. The length of time they have known each other is also not checked. Thus, by abusing the opportunities offered by the state, people promote sham marriages. Quite recently – in August 2015 – Ireland made amendments in its laws and regulations, so that it would no longer be as easy to conclude sham marriages. As soon as a marriage registrant has even the slightest suspicion about a couple’s intent to conclude a sham marriage, he or she may inform the police and the immigration authorities.

Is the current “refugee crisis” the reason for Ireland introducing the amendments?

No, Latvia has been encouraging the competent Irish authorities to solve the sham marriage problem within the state since 2006. But now there are a lot of migrants within EU member states who are looking for possibilities to legally stay in the EU. People are constantly thinking of new ways to bypass the obstacles created by us.

Could you name some examples?

Women are no longer approached “directly” by being offered money for marriage, but are now searched for on the internet and being offered jobs. They arrive and find out that there is no job, but there is a candidate that they have to marry. Usually women who have come to work do not agree to such terms, and then the worst case scenario begins. They are affected in different ways – physically, as well as morally. Sometimes they are also raped. For the sake of their own life and in order for the nightmare to finally end, they agree to get married. However, nothing usually ends with the marriage, and the situation only becomes worse. It’s like a vicious circle.

What will happen to this vicious circle when Latvia receives 531 refugees?

In the context of refugees I find myself thinking more and more about the fact that at the time when this target group will be taken in an efficient action plan will have to be in place for fulfilling the well-being and staying requirements of the refugees in order for them to remain in the sight of the responsible institutions and non-governmental organisations. Refugees are potential victims of human trafficking, because they are in a vulnerable situation. They have left their homes, they don’t know the language, and they don’t have any money. There will always be someone who will be able to benefit from this and who will try to abuse such people. Therefore we might also become a country of destination for the exploitation of people.

What is the correlation between human trafficking and sham marriages in real life?

The two are directly linked! In 2011, Latvia made a recommendation to Ireland that activities for decreasing the amount of sham marriages should be implemented and that they should be criminalised. The Irish side was forced to pay attention. We were able to convince our colleagues that sham marriages are very closely linked to human trafficking. Before there was a belief that sham marriages are solely a violation of migration policy. However, we have information that proves the fact that these marriages are used with the aim to exploit people.

And what is being done to eradicate sham marriages?

We have developed and are currently implementing an international project named “HESTIA”, which is aimed against human trafficking and sham marriages, and currently involves approximately 20 researchers and specialists from six countries – Estonia, Lithuania, Ireland, Slovakia, and Finland. The project is run by Latvia, i.e. the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Latvia and the project partner – society “Shelter “Safe House””. The State Police and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are also among the associated partners. The activities of the project are focused on creating a joint understanding of what sham marriages mean in direct relation to human trafficking in all EU member states. It is an innovative approach; a creative process for trying to solve the problem across the whole EU. Thanks to our study, which will be published next May, we will be ready to offer a comprehensive action plan to all countries.

What will it provide?

Us, and other EU member states, will be able to create a common approach for solving this problem. It is only possible to properly solve a problem after it has been named and identified.

Does the perception of this problem differ in the EU?

The perception is very different. And so is the terminology. There are white marriages, grey marriages, forced marriages, fictious marriages, marriages of convenience, and business marriages. Besides, Latvia is the only country that restricts its citizens’ ability to enter into sham marriages abroad by imposing criminal liability. Other countries have established penalties only within their own borders.

Why is it exactly Latvia that is in charge of such a large and important project?

Latvia was one of the first states to start talking about this problem and bringing the attention of other states to the fact that it exists. Already as early as in 2006, the Embassy of Latvia in Ireland observed that the number of sham marriages was increasing rapidly. And soon after that victims of human trafficking who were looking for help started to appear –they were deceived and cheated women who had run away from their exploiters or fictious husbands.

Where do you find the inspiration and strength for such an ambitious and responsible project?

In our daily work we were able to see how these sham marriages are able to ruin people’s lives. It is not only the women who are the victims. It is also their relatives and their children. We also decided to approach international partners, as this is a global and not a local problem. Currently, with the project gaining momentum, there are states that want to join themselves. For example, Cyprus recently expressed such a desire, since the problem of sham marriages is also very topical for them. A large human trafficking scheme was recently discovered in Italy, where homeless people are involved in sham marriages. Sham marriages are also becoming more and more popular in Portugal.

The European Commission has great expectations regarding the results of the project, because they will be used to make decisions on the following steps in the fight against human trafficking in connection with sham marriages on the level of the whole EU.

*Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB

Interview author: journalist Sabīne Košeļeva, portal www.apollo.tvnet.lv. The information was published 04.04.2016. by (in coordination with the editorial board of apollo.lv): Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the project HESTIA, e-mail: rasa.salina@gmail.com

 

People become victims of human trafficking due to a lack of language knowledge and not knowing their rights

24.08.2015. 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.

Lāsma Stabiņa, HESTIA Project, human trafficking

How topical is the human trafficking problem currently in Latvia and what is being done to reduce it?

Certainly, the problem is present, and it is not a minor one. EU Anti-Trafficking Day does not mean that there is only one day in the year when we are talking about the problem, handing out brochures, feeling grateful with what has been achieved. We work throughout the whole year. Police officers carry out investigations within criminal proceedings, public prosecutors supervise the investigations of police officers, decide on criminal prosecution of the respective persons and bring the criminal prosecution before a court in the name of the state; work is also carried out by judges, social workers, consular officials, border-guards, and non-governmental organisations. Our common goal is to reduce human trafficking, identify potential victims, and gather as much information as possible about potential cases of human trafficking.

My duty is to summarise and analyse our work in order to understand what is being done correctly and what should be improved, as well as to identify our strengths and weaknesses.

What is the real situation? Isn’t it a bit like tilting at windmills?

The problem is that the human trafficking prevention policy, the implementation process of which I am coordinating, does not solve employment and well-being issues of a state, which are the primary ones for tackling human trafficking. If the salary is not large enough to provide one’s family with the necessary means of living and to pay the bills, the people form a desire to go and search for happiness somewhere else. We are still not able to prevent the causes, we are fighting with the consequences.

There is only one state budget, and it provides financing primarily for the solving of urgent problems. Therefore there will always be someone who does not get enough. Human trafficking prevention policy is a field that usually receives insufficient funding.

The government provides quite sufficient resources for the provision of social rehabilitation services to victims each year, however, there is no funding granted for research, informative campaigns and the training of specialists. Therefore the institutions are looking for funds within their own budget or are trying to attract the co-financing of EU projects, as it is not possible to eradicate the respective problem without the aforementioned activities.

How does the fight against human trafficking take place in other countries?

There is more funding and there are more human resources in other EU states. Our specialised police unit that is combating human trafficking is very small. People have to work a lot, because the investigation of human trafficking cases is a complicated and time consuming process.

Another significant aspect is that the citizens of our country are mostly exploited abroad, therefore it is more difficult to investigate the cases, as they do not fall within our national jurisdiction. The number of criminal proceedings that the State Police has initiated regarding the trafficking of human beings is comparatively low when compared to other states, e.g. Germany. It is so because Latvia is the country of origin of the victims. As a country of origin, we have to carry out targeted work in order to ensure that people do not get into exploitative conditions.

How can that be achieved?

By working with target groups. Providing all of the necessary information as much as possible. Certainly, more extensive support from the state in relation to the provision of a place of residence and work is required in order for people not to even think about leaving. In order for people not to find themselves in desperate situations when ill-thought-out decisions are made.

What are the main risk groups?

They are young women – usually unmarried, single mothers who are not able to provide a fulfilling life for themselves and their children. Also people with mental health issues. Young men are usually subjected to exploitation of labour.

How do people become victims? Is it their lack of judgement? Ignorance?

One of the reasons is usually the lack of language knowledge and not knowing one’s rights. People simply do not understand what type of employment contracts they are signing, thus they might find themselves in situations when they have to work just for food. They often do not even realise that they are being exploited or they are ashamed to report it. Especially men. They’ve got pride that does not allow them to “complain” or ask for help.

How about the statistics? Is the number of these unfortunate stories growing?

I’ve got a feeling that the number of potential victims is growing, although official statistical data shows that the number of identified victims has decreased significantly.

How come?

I think that the actual number of victims is simply not identified. Last year (2014) there were 27 victims identified, but this year there are only four.

Why is it so?

The state-funded social rehabilitation service provider has been changed. The service provider is chosen through a public procurement procedure, where the main criterion is the lowest price. The professional experience of the service provider is not assessed.

It is hard to name one specific reason for why the number of victims has been so low this year, but I believe that one of the reasons is the lack of informative campaigns within the state. In order to ensure the identification of potential human trafficking victims and ensure their own ability to identify risks, it is necessary to educate specialists and inform the public. It is not possible without the attraction of project funding and the personal initiative of workers.

The “person to person” contact is the most important one. Especially in the regions. The more information we provide, the larger the feedback is, the more victims are identified, as well as the better our understanding of the actual situation and our ability to develop work methods for the prevention of the problem is. Besides, it is not enough if this interinstitutional cooperation mechanism is working in Riga – it has to work well everywhere! It is very important for capable and reliable social workers to be present in the regions, with them being familiar with the system and being able to advise others on how to act, because people who live from wage to wage, trying to make ends meet and feed their children, are not able to fully comprehend a certain situation and assess it in a critical manner.

*Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB

Interview author: journalist Sabīne Košeļeva, portal www.apollo.tvnet.lv. The information was published 04.04.2016. by (in coordination with the editorial board of apollo.lv): Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the project HESTIA, e-mail: rasa.salina@gmail.com


Ireland addresses sham marriages – significant amendments to the Civil Registration Act of Ireland

20.08.2015. 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.

If the marriage registrars become suspicious of a certain couple, an investigation will be started, and if the suspicion is confirmed, they will be able to refuse the registration of the marriage and inform the Department of Justice and Equality about the respective case. Further on a marriage can be considered as a sham marriage in Ireland if: the couple is not able to communicate in one language; the two parties have known each other for a small period of time before applying for marriage; the parties applying for marriage do not know anything about one another; the couple is not living together; the couple does not have any plans as a family. It is also possible to use any other information that provides sufficient grounds for believing that the respective marriage will be a sham marriage.

The amendments also foresee the improvement of information exchange between the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Justice and Equality in relation to the suspicion of sham marriages.

Ireland’s Minister for Justice and Equality Ms Frances Fitzgerald stated that in addition to the EU Free Movement rights, the right to marry in Ireland is also protected in the Constitution, but the reality is though, that in some cases these rights are abused, and the abuse of the institution of marriage, for immigration purposes, cannot and will not be tolerated. The Minister also indicated that sham marriages have facilitated human trafficking of women to Ireland with the purpose of concluding sham marriages.

Lāsma Stabiņa, National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator and Manager of the HESTIA* project: “Latvia has been addressing the phenomenon of sham marriages and the human trafficking issue related to it at various international events for many years, but this has not provided the desired results – there is still no common understanding regarding sham marriages and their direct relation to human trafficking within the European Union member states. That is why we are truly pleased about Ireland’s understanding and practical actions in solving the sham marriage problem, thus providing a significant contribution to the prevention of human trafficking, including in Latvia.”

History of events:

  • 2006: The competent authorities of Latvia identify the growing trend of sham marriage conclusion – citizens of the Republic of Latvia cooperate with foreign citizens living in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Cyprus and other countries in order to organise marriages for other persons without the aim to establish a family (sham marriages), so that citizens of Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and other countries could acquire residence permits for living in a member state of the European Union, member state of the European Economic Area, or the Swiss Confederation by bypassing the laws and regulations in force.
  • 2006-2011: trends show that the phenomenon of sham marriages is related to the activities of criminal groups, and there are also signs of human trafficking. Issue of sham marriages are updated on the level of Europol and Eurojust from the Latvian side. Several informative campaigns are implemented in Latvia in order to draw public attention to the negative consequences of sham marriages. The issues of sham marriages and their relation to human trafficking are regularly addressed at cooperation forums, conferences and bilateral meetings of various levels.by representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Embassy of Latvia in Ireland.
  • 2011: Latvia makes a recommendation to Ireland to introduce amendments in its legislation by criminalising organisers and facilitators of sham marriages within the framework of the UN Universal Periodic Review on 6 October 2011 in Geneva.
  • 2012: Introduction of amendments to the Criminal Law of the Republic of Latvia by prescribing a new legal provision – Section 285.2 of the Criminal Law “Ensuring in Bad Faith a Possibility to Acquire the Right to Stay in the Republic of Latvia Legally, other Member State of the European Union, Member State of the European Economic Area or Swiss Confederation” that came into force on 1 April 2013. The new regulation provides possibilities to impose criminal liability on persons who recruit people and organise or conclude sham marriages not only in Latvia, but also in other European Union member states, states of the EEA or the Swiss Confederation. The following amount of criminal proceedings have been started in relation to this crime: 7 in 2013, 15 in 2014, and 9 in 2015.
  • 2013: governmental and non-governmental institutions of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Slovakia and Ireland cooperate in order to develop the HESTIA project application on the prevention of sham marriages and human trafficking for the tender to receive co-financing from the European Commission.
  • 2014: On 4 December 2014 amendments to the Civil Registration Act of Ireland come into force, burdening the conclusion of sham marriages or marriages of convenience, as well as civil partnership agreements, thus preventing sham marriages.
  • 2015: implementation of the HESTIA project is started in January. During the course of the project’s activities – in June – representatives of the Department of Justice and Equality of Ireland acknowledged that the HESTIA project is very adequate for the current situation regarding sham marriages and human trafficking, and they expressed their belief in the implemented project’s ability to ensure a general overview and a common understanding regarding the situation.

On 18 August 2015 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 and the ability to refuse to register a marriage in the case that suspicions about a sham marriage are confirmed.

According to the information provided by the society “Shelter “Safe House””, which provided state-funded social rehabilitation services to victims of human trafficking during the period from December 2007 to June 2015, during this time help was provided to 113 victims of human trafficking, with 59 of the persons having suffered from human trafficking with the purpose of a sham marriage. Portrait of the victim: a woman aged up to 28 years old, elementary/secondary education, no children/ with 1 or 2 children born in an unregistered marriage and being raised by the mother alone.

According to the information provided by the Embassy of Latvia in Ireland, more than 1,600 marriages between citizens of Latvia and third country nationals have been registered in Ireland since 2004. Since 2006, almost 2,000 third country nationals have submitted their documents to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service in order to receive a residence permit on the basis of a marriage with a Latvian citizen (the marriages are often concluded in Pakistan, Nigeria, India or in another European Union member state – Denmark, Cyprus, Spain, Sweden – with the residence permit being requested in Ireland). Many of these marriages are concluded with the aim to establish a family and there are no grounds to believe that they could be sham marriages.

Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB

HESTIA project partners:  Ministry of the Interior (Latvia), NGO "Shelter “Safe House"" (Latvia), NGO "Mittetulundusühing"" "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Project associated partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).

The information was published 15.04.2016. by: Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the project HESTIA, e-mail: rasa.salina@gmail.com

Activities of HESTIA Project presented at high level meetings and conferences in Belgium and France

07.07.2015. 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.

Ms Vija Buša, Counsellor of the Embassy of the Republic of Latvia in Dublin, Ireland provided presentation on the problem of sham marriages and links to trafficking in human beings.

Ms Lāsma Stabiņa, Senior Desk Officer of Sectoral Policy Department of the Ministry of the Interior, a Manager of Project HESTIA* presented the project and informed about initial findings from the project. She informed that if the project research currently carried out provides the arguments based evidences Latvia is ready to initiate discussions on the EU level to amend the EU Directive 2011/36/EU defining sham marriages as a form of trafficking in human beings. 

Mr Trofimovs expressed the hope that the results of international project HESTIA led by the Latvian Ministry of the Interior will provide the basis for new political or legal initiatives to combat trafficking in human beings.

On 15-16 June 2015 in Strasbourg, France the 16th meeting of the Committee of the Parties of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings and the conference organised to mark the 10th anniversary of the opening for signature of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings were held. 

Ms Lāsma Stabiņa as a Contact Person to liaise with GRETA providing comments on Report submitted by the Latvian authorities on measures taken to comply with Committee of the Parties Recommendation on implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings by Latvia informed that GRETA Report concerning the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings by Latvia (first evaluation round) was used as a background document to elaborate a new policy planning document “National Strategy for Prevention of Trafficking in Human Beings 2014 – 2020” which was approved by the Latvian Government in the beginning of the year 2014. Since adoption of Committee of the Parties Recommendation in 15 February 2013 various anti-trafficking measures and activities have been implemented achieving important improvements in awareness raising, provision of support, assistance and protection services for victims of trafficking in human beings as well as investigation and prosecution of trafficking in human beings cases. She highlighted that situation and trends of trafficking in human beings are changing and become more complicated to identify and investigate and the Latvian Government acknowledges that there are a lot of to do to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings. The Latvian Government identifies new challenges which demand innovative approaches and solutions particularly when it comes to the issue on shame marriages and trafficking in human beings. She informed about the HESTIA Project and its initial results discussed by project partners from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovak Republic, Finland and Ireland during the project’s coordination meeting in Dublin, Ireland in the beginning of June.

Lāsma Stabiņa

Ms Lāsma Stabiņa

Mr Mick Quinn from the Department of Justice and Equality of Ireland informed that shared understanding is only ever going to happen when we have a full picture on what happens and that can happen when it is seen from both sides – from source countries and destination countries. HESTIA Project research will be a useful tool to provide shared picture to develop shared understanding. 

Mr Mick Quinn

The HESTIA Project was presented at GENVAL (Working Party on General Matters, including Evaluations) on 24 June 2015 in Brussels, Belgium higlighting that EU Member States have responsibility for identification of victims of trafficking in human beings and provision of support, assistance and protection for them. “Consequently there is no reason to excuse that this phenomenon is not clear enough and such cases of trafficking in human beings are complicated to recognize and investigate” Ms L.Stabiņa said. 

*Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB

HESTIA project partners:  Ministry of the Interior (Latvia), NGO "Shelter “Safe House"" (Latvia), NGO "Mittetulundusühing"" "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Project associated partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).

Within the framework of the project during two years a variety of activities are provided: by the organization of discussions of legislators, policy planners and practitioners at national and regional level in each country a comprehensive research of the problem of sham marriages will be prepared; learning methodology will be developed and training will be implemented during which social workers, social educators, workers of educational institutions, media representatives, state and municipal police officers and representatives of non-governmental organizations will be educated; awareness raising campaigns and final conference of the project will be implemented. Overall, during the activities of the project it is planned to involve and address more than 700 thousand members of the society in six European Union (EU) countries. HESTIA project was launched on 1 January 2015 and will last 24 months.

Information prepared by: Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the project HESTIA, e-mail: rasa.salina@gmail.com

 

 

Dublin has held the first coordination meeting of the project HESTIA

30.06.2015. In order to discuss the progress of the project HESTIA*, results and conclusions of national and regional round table meetings**, the first project coordination meeting was held in Dublin from 3 to 5 June (Ireland) chaired by the Department of Justice and Equality of Ireland in collaboration with the Immigrant Council of Ireland. It was attended by 20 project coordinators and researchers from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia, Finland and Ireland.

Photo gallery

During the first day of the meeting participants concluded that the project partners have no common understanding of connection between sham marriages and human trafficking, because sham marriages are mainly regarded as the violation of national legal regulation related to migration and residence permits.

Ms Lāsma Stabiņa, National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator and the Manager of the project HESTIA: "Having evaluated sham marriages, we concluded that even if a woman is not subject to the exploitation, such a marriage has unintended negative consequences. According to the national regulatory framework of the project partners’ countries, the couple must live in a marriage for at least five years before the marriage can be dissolved. By this time the woman may develop a new relationship in which children are born, but they are legally considered to be the spouse’s children and can be used to bind a woman to sham marriage even more."

Summarizing the views of the member states of the project and different concepts of sham marriages (sham marriage, forced marriage, marriage of convenience, fake marriage, false marriage, bogus marriage, fictitious marriage, exploitative marriage, grey marriage), the participants of meeting agreed that in the framework of the project and until the publication of the project research scheduled for May 2016, the term "human trafficking involving exploitative sham marriage" will be used because right now it reflects the least confusing nature of the problem.

The second day of the meeting was devoted to the acquisition of project research methodology provided by Finnish project partner - HEUNI, which is one of the leading research institutes in the Baltic Sea Region. In order to develop high-quality research, HEUNI project partners offered a single research methodology on the basis of which each partner of the project will develop the national report, reflecting the situation of particular country: national legislation and the legal framework for sham marriages and human trafficking, awareness of nexus between sham marriages and human trafficking analyzing the reasons why the person agrees to go abroad to enter into sham marriages, who are those persons who agree to enter into sham marriages and to become the victims of exploitation.

"In practice human trafficking and sham marriages are difficult to identify, therefore HESTIA project is currently even more topical. There is a need for the description of the situation and problem, which will give a clear answer as to whether the marriages is a form of human trafficking or a mean to involve a person in exploitation, whether it is possible to provide a concrete definition of this phenomenon, whether changes to legislation are required at European level," says L. Stabiņa. "It is expected that the project research will answer the key questions: what are the weaknesses of the system/legislation/administrative procedures that enable trafficking in the context of sham marriages; what are the weaknesses of the system/legislation/administrative procedures that enable trafficking in the context of sham marriages; what can be done to prevent exploitation."

Also Irish Ministry for Justice and Equality noted that a common understanding on this issue will be possible when there will be a clear description of the situation, of what and how happens in the country of origin of the victims and in the country of exploitation. In their view, a comprehensive description of the situation is necessary in order to achieve a common understanding and the research of project HESTIA will provide it.

In order to discuss the topicality of human trafficking and sham marriages, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia as an associate partner of the project HESTIA organized the meeting of the project partners in the Latvian Embassy in Dublin on 5 June. The meeting was hosted by the Latvian Ambassador to Ireland H.E. Gints Apals, Counsellor of the Embassy Ms Vija Buša and Senior Officer of Embassy Consular Section Ms Guna Āboliņa, who presented the experience of the Latvian Embassy in this matter.

Since 2004 in Ireland more than 1,600 marriages between Latvian citizens and third country nationals have been registered. Since 2006 nearly 2,000 third country nationals have submitted documents to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service for a residence permit on the basis of marriage with a Latvian citizen (often the marriage was concluded in Pakistan, Nigeria, India or in another European Union Member State - Denmark, Cyprus, Spain, Sweden). Embassy staff found that many of these marriages were concluded with a purpose to create the family and there was no reason to think that they could be sham marriages 

HESTIA project partners:  Ministry of the Interior (Latvia), NGO "Shelter “Safe House"" (Latvia), NGO "Mittetulundusühing"" "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Project associated partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).

Within the framework of the project during two years a variety of activities are provided: by the organization of discussions of legislators, policy planners and practitioners at national and regional level in each country a comprehensive research of the problem of sham marriages will be prepared; learning methodology will be developed and training will be implemented during which social workers, social educators, workers of educational institutions, media representatives, state and municipal police officers and representatives of non-governmental organizations will be educated; awareness raising campaigns and final conference of the project will be implemented. Overall, during the activities of the project it is planned to involve and address more than 700 thousand members of the society in six European Union (EU) countries. HESTIA project was launched on 1 January 2015 and will last 24 months.

*Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB

**National and regional meetings - with the aim to define and solve the problems of sham marriages - were held since this year’s February in HESTIA project partner countries - Estonia, Lithuania, Ireland and Slovakia. Latvian national regional meeting was held on March 19, while the four regional discussions in municipalities of Ogre, Kuldīga, Beverīna and Jēkabpils were held in April and May. These activities were carried out by the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Latvia and the association "Shelter" Safe House"". 

Information prepared by: Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the project HESTIA, e-mail: rasa.salina@gmail.com 

 

 

Participants of HESTIA meeting agreed on the use of terms “piespiedu laulības” and “forced marriages” within the context of human trafficking

07.04.2015. Aiming at achieving common understanding of the sham marriage phenomenon and its direct link to human trafficking, on March 19, the Ministry of the Interior and non-governmental organisation “Shelter “Safe House”” organised a national round table meeting within the framework of HESTIA* project, in which 26 representatives from the government, local government and non-governmental sector participated. During the meeting, participants discussed the concept of sham marriage, its use in Latvian and English language, previous experience of experts and specialists, identified issues in resolving the cases of human trafficking with an intent to enter into a sham marriage, as well as necessary preventive measures to reduce the spread of sham marriages in Latvia and European Union.   

In Latvia, there are several designations known and used for marriage, which is concluded between a citizen of a European Union (EU) Member State or a third country national, who is legally staying in any European Union Member State, and a third country national with the sole aim of circumventing the rules on entry and residence of third-country nationals and obtaining for the third-country national a residence permit or authority to reside in a Member State, namely “fiktīvas laulības” (sham marriage), “aprēķina laulības” (marriage of convenience), “darījuma laulības” (business-deal marriage), “piespiedu laulības” (forced marriage). During the meeting, participants agreed that the most appropriate designation for such marriage is “fiktīvas laulības” (sham marriage), since, for the purposes of the Civil Law, a marriage is sham, if it is concluded without the intent to create a family.

 The representative of the Terminology Commission of the Latvian Academy of Sciences (LAS) Astrīda Vucāne informed that the LAS Terminology Commission supported the term “fiktīvas laulības” (sham marriage) and its official approval, since the key word “fiktīvs” (sham) is used in the Civil Law in relation to such marriage.

In relation to trafficking in human beings for the purpose of concluding a sham marriage, experts proposed to use the term “piespiedu laulības” (forced marriage), since there are several forced elements in this case — a person is deceived by using its vulnerability condition and is often influenced physically.

If means of constraint are used to involve a person in a sham marriage (violence, deceit, fraud), in using the concept of a sham marriage in English language, the most appropriate term would be “forced marriages, rather than “sham marriages” used in colloquial language. 

The representatives of local governments from the social services of Liepāja, Madona and Trikāta of Beverīna Region informed participants about the cases of human trafficking identified and resolved in their practice, when clients were used to enter into sham marriages.

Photo gallery

The society “Shelter “Safe House”” informed those present about the information campaigns previously organised in Latvia and current preventive activities for reducing human trafficking, inviting the participants of the meeting to actively cooperate further and carry out explanatory work when dealing with different target groups to prevent the abuse of persons and their involvement in sham marriages. Since 2007, the society provided social rehabilitation services to 113 persons, 59 of which had suffered exactly from sham marriages. In 2014, the operators of 24 h Hotline for reducing human trafficking +371 28612120 provided 220 consultations, 63 of which concerned sham marriages. During the first two months of this year, 55 consultations were provided, 16 of which concerned sham marriages.

Representatives from the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Office of the Prosecutor General, State Police, Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, State Boarder Guard, Northern Registry Office of the City of Riga, Riga, Liepāja, Madona and Beverīna Region local governments, Department of Welfare of Riga City Council, Latvian Academy of Sciences, society “Shelter “Safe House””, “For Vidzeme Free of Human Trafficking”, as well as a representative of HESTIA partner — European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control, affiliated with the United Nations (HEUNI) participated in the national round table meeting.

HESTIA representatives inform that such national meetings aimed at defining and resolving the issues of sham marriages are organised in the partner countries of the project as well — Estonia, Lithuania, Ireland and Slovakia.

Within the framework of the project during two years a variety of activities are provided: by the organization of discussions of legislators, policy planners and practitioners at national and regional level in each country a comprehensive research of the problem of sham marriages will be prepared; learning methodology will be developed and training will be implemented during which social workers, social educators, workers of educational institutions, media representatives, state and municipal police officers and representatives of non-governmental organizations will be educated; awareness raising campaigns and final conference of the project will be implemented. Overall, during the activities of the project it is planned to involve and address more than 700 thousand members of the society in six European Union (EU) countries.

HESTIA project partners:  Ministry of the Interior (Latvia), NGO "Shelter “Safe House"" (Latvia), NGO "Mittetulundusühing"" "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Project associated partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).

An implementation of HESTIA project was launched on 1 January 2015 and would last for 24 months. From 5 to 6 February was launched the first meeting of the representatives of the project’s Member States is organized in Riga in order to discuss HESTIA future activities and plans. It is planned that HESTIA regional seminars will be organised on April 16-17 in Ogre and on April 22-23 in Aizkraukle. 

*Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB


Participants of HESTIA project gathered in Riga for their first meeting 

02.03.2015 To discuss the further activities of HESTIA project, the representatives of all countries participating in the project — Ministry of the Interior (Latvia) NGO “Shelter “Safe House”” (Latvia), NGO “Mittetulundusühing “Living for Tomorrow”” (Estonia), NGO “Caritas Lithuania” (Lithuania), Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland), Ministry of Interior of the Slovak Republic (Slovakia),European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control, affiliated with the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland) — gathered for the first meeting that took place on February 5-6 in Riga. Associated partners of the project: State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).

The aim of the event was to meet project partners and learn about the work of institutions and organisations represented by them within the framework of the project; inform the public about the project, discuss the progress of project implementation with partners; plan the events of the project planned in the first half of 2015; get acquainted with issues related to the use of project funding, preparation of reports.

Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB

Information prepared by: Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the project HESTIA, e-mail: rasa.salina@gmail.com 

 

 

With the support of the European Commission Latvia and five EU countries have launched an ambitious project to reduce sham marriages

05.02.2015. In order to solve the problem of sham marriages in Latvia and Europe the Ministry of the Interior (MoI) with the support of Directorate General of Home Affairs of European Commission (EC) "Prevention of and Fight against Crime Programme" has launched a project HESTIA* in activities of which public and non-governmental organizations of six countries - Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Slovakia and, Ireland are involved.

Press conference: Rasa Saliņa, Dimitrijs Trofimovs, Lāsma Stabiņa, Sandra Zalcmane

Photo galleries: Press conference and HESTIA first meeting  

HESTIA INFO SHEET

Within the framework of the project during two years a variety of activities are provided: by the organization of discussions of legislators, policy planners and practitioners at national and regional level in each country a comprehensive research of the problem of sham marriages will be prepared; learning methodology will be developed and training will be implemented during which social workers, social educators, workers of educational institutions, media representatives, state and municipal police officers and representatives of non-governmental organizations will be educated; awareness raising campaigns and final conference of the project will be implemented. Overall, during the activities of the project it is planned to involve and address more than 700 thousand members of the society in six European Union (EU) countries.

Dimitrijs Trofimovs, the Deputy State Secretary of the MoI: "A sham marriage used for legalization of the residence is an urgent problem for the whole EU, so it is important to look for solutions to reduce this phenomenon in all policy planning and inter-professional levels in Latvia and abroad. Sham marriages create not only uncontrolled migration, but are also a threat to the internal security of the EU Member States. We hope that the results of this project will not be "temporary patch" for the growing problem of sham marriages, but will provide a coherent and effective action of the EU Member States to address sham marriages and human trafficking with the purpose of sham marriages."

Lāsma Stabiņa, National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator and the Manager of project HESTIA: "So far the problem of trafficking in human beings with the purpose of sham marriages has not been studied in any of the EU Member States, there is no information on persons engaged in sham marriages, on their use in other forms of trafficking in human beings, as well as a study has not been made about the laws used for the restriction of this phenomenon in other EU countries. HESTIA project activities - national and regional discussions in five countries, the study, specialist education, and informative activities are a combined set of measures aimed at raising awareness and establishing a comprehensive action in the EU Member States to prevent this form of trafficking in human beings.” L.Stabiņa explains that the meaning of the project name "HESTIA" in the Ancient Greek religion is the goddess of hearth, family, domesticity, who played an important role in the social, religious and political life. This prototype was chosen as a source of inspiration for the project and as an opposition to sham marriages, trafficking in human beings and abuse of people.

The Ministry of the Interior in cooperation with the association “Shelter” “Safe House”” developed a project application in 2013 and after its submission for the targeted call for proposals on the prevention of trafficking in human beings announced by the European Commission (EC) it was one of the 13 projects, which acquired the EC funding. Overall, 76 projects were submitted for the targeted call.

"Our aggregate statistical data shows that since 2007 the association has provided 113 persons with social rehabilitation services of which 59 were victims of sham marriages. From 2010 to 2014 the specialists of the association prepared 27 applications for submission to the court for declaring the marriage not valid from the moment of its conclusion of which 9 are litigated cases. On average, the proceedings lasted for 14-16 months. Last year the telephone operators of the twenty-four hours Trustline - 28612120 - provided 220 consultations for reducing the trafficking in human beings, of which 63 have been cases of sham marriages. This means that people are already interested in prevention of trafficking in human beings and in measures to protect themselves from it. There is still a lot of work that we together with partners invest in informing the society, and also in education of specialists. Our awareness campaigns in recent years have acquired recognition at the international level, and Latvia can be proud of gaining good experience in providing prevention activities, being an example, sharing knowledge with other countries. For prevention efforts to be effective, a continuous work of all involved parties is necessary, so it is a gratification that issues of sham marriages in the framework of this project will be addressed at the international level between both countries of origin of victims and countries of destination,” says Sandra Zalcmane, the Head of the NGO “Shelter “Safe House””.

HESTIA project partners: Ministry of the Interior (Latvia), NGO "Shelter “Safe House"" (Latvia), NGO "Mittetulundusühing"" "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Project associated partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).

NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania) informs that in 2014 16 pre-trial investigations were initiated, provided assistance to 20 victims of trafficking in human beings.18 persons have been recognized as suspects. The main forms of trafficking in human beings - forced prostitution and involvement in criminal activities.

Presented data by Estonian NGO "Mittetulundusühing" “Living for Tomorrow"" show that during last year 2 people in Estonia were formally identified as victims of trafficking in human beings and one case has been adjudicated in connection with sham marriage.

European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) reported that Finland has very little information on trafficking in human beings with the purpose of forced marriages or sham marriages. Three of the four identified victims were victims of labour exploitation.

Provided data by the Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic show that in 2014 30 victims of trafficking in human beings have been identified, 13 of them are victims of sexual exploitation, 9 of sham marriages, 4 of forced labour, 2 of forced begging, 1 of involvement in criminal activities, 1 of other form of trafficking in human beings . In the case of sham marriages in Slovakia there is a tendency of this form of trafficking in human beings to increase: 2 victims were registered in 2011, 2 victims in 2012, 7 victims in 2013, 9 victims in 2014. In many cases of sham marriages women were forced into prostitution.

An implementation of HESTIA project was launched on 1 January 2015 and would last for 24 months. From 5 to 6 February the first meeting of the representatives of the project’s Member States is organized in Riga in order to discuss HESTIA future activities and plans. The total project budget is 640,000 Euros.

*Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB

Information prepared by: Rasa Salina, Public Relations Specialist of the project HESTIA, tel.: 29145314, e-mail: rasa.salina@gmail.com