EU women lured for sham marriages
PARIS — A new person has been appearing more and more often alongside French President Francois Hollande on official visits abroad and in high-level meetings at the Elysee Palace: Segolene Royal, the president’s ex-companion and mother of his four children.
As France’s minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, Ms Royal is now Mr Hollande’s leading partner in his most ambitious political endeavour. She is playing a key role in France’s preparations to host a landmark UN conference in Paris later this year on fighting climate change.
Still, her new omnipresence at Mr Hollande’s side is rankling critics who say she’s playing an outsize role in presidential politics.
Ms Royal (61) draws her special status from her personal relationship with the president — but also from her high-level political career.
While Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign followed her husband’s presidency, in the Hollande-royal political couple, it was Ms Royal’s star that rose first.
A heavy hitter in the Socialist Party, she ran for president in 2007, coming in second to Nicolas Sarkozy — the same year she announced her split from Mr Hollande, after almost three decades together. Mr Hollande then beat Sarkozy for the presidency in 2012.
Ms Royal’s nomination as minister came soon after Mr Hollande’s separation from exfirst lady Valerie Trierweiler, who was said to be firmly opposed to seeing Ms Royal enter the government.
Following his tumultuous breakup with Ms Trierweiler in January 2014 amid reports that he was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet, Mr Hollande has made a point of keeping his sentimental life private.
Mr Hollande has never denied a relationship with Ms Gayet, who remains invisible at the Elysee, though French media report that she secretly visits him. She has never accompanied the president on any official trip.
On the contrary, Ms Royal now appears at the French president’s side with increasing regularity.
At a meeting this week with former US Vice President Al Gore about climate change, Mr Hollande greeted his American guest, then waited for Ms Royal to arrive, so that she could join the photo op.
French weekly Nouvel Observateur called her “The Vice President” in a cover story — a LONDON — Klara Balogova was 18, penniless and heavily pregnant when she rode thousands of miles from Slovakia to England to marry a man she had never met.
She knew he did not want her, or her child. He wanted her European identity card. The marriage was arranged so the 23-year-old Pakistani groom could gain the right to live and work in Europe.
Ms Balogova was promised a clean place to stay in Britain and maybe even some money. But she says within days of arrival, she was moved from Manchester to Glasgow in Scotland, where she was kept in an apartment with her future husband. When he wasn’t around, his younger brother would stand over her, and her identity documents were taken away.
“He didn’t let me out at any time. He told me it was not possible to go out there,” said Ms Balogova, a shy, petite Gypsy woman who spoke reluctantly, never making any eye contact when she was interviewed. “Once a week we went out together. I was never allowed to go alone.”
Each year, dozens of women like Ms Balogova from the poorer corners of eastern Europe are lured to the West for sham marriages.
The men, who authorities say are often Asian or African, pay large sums because they want to live, work or claim benefits more easily in their chosen country and move freely within Europe. The brokers, often organised criminal gangs, take most or all of the profits. And the women sometimes end up trapped in a foreign country with nothing.
This relatively new form of trafficking comes at a time when Britain continues to tighten its borders, and politicians across western Europe are clamouring for tougher curbs to immigration. Illicit marriages to get around these laws are becoming more common, including direct arrangements between grooms and women as well as the sale of brides.
In Britain, one of several coun- title that doesn’t officially exist in France.
Such omnipresence prompted reaction from the ex-first lady. “They are inseparable. It goes beyond their children.
“They both share an immoderate taste for politics. Power is their reason for living, their mutual obsession,” Ms Trierweiler told Le Parisien newspaper earlier this month. tries where the brides show up, the number of women suspected of being trafficked for sham marriages in 2013 doubled from the year before to 45, according to the National Crime Agency. And Europol last year identified this type of crime as an “emerging phenomenon.”
Most brides get paidfor trips to Britain, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands, and some don’t fully realise what they’ve gotten themselves into until they arrive. Women have been held captive until their marriage papers are signed, abused by their “husband” and his friends, used for sex and drug trafficking or even made to marry more than once, according to European authorities and charities.
“Depending on the case, a woman can be sold for thousands of euros,” said Angelika Molnar, an anti-trafficking specialist at Europol. “I can tell you it is lucrative.”
In Latvia, trafficking for sham marriages is considered so serious that the government is leading a European Commission-funded international programme to combat it. Of the 34 trafficking victims lured abroad from the Baltic state recorded last year, 22 were for sham marriages, according to Laisma Stabina, anti-trafficking coordinator at the country’s Interior Ministry.
The numbers are still tiny compared to the thousands of cases of fake marriages reported each year to Britain’s Home Office, where brides agree to wed for money and are considered accomplices. But officials acknowledge that the trafficking of brides is hard to track.
“I think the problem is much
There’s no sign that Ms Royal and Mr Hollande are together again romantically. They take care to keep their relationship formal in public appearances.
In a rare exception, Mr Hollande evoked their former life together when Ms Royal accompanied him on a long trip this month to the French Caribbean, Cuba and Haiti. bigger than we realize, because we only see a small percentage of the offenses being committed,” said Phil Brewer, head of Scotland Yard’s trafficking and kidnap unit. “There is still not a big understanding of the signs.”
To understand why the women do it, you need only go to Ms Balogova’s village.
Ms Balogova, like most women trafficked from Slovakia, comes from a destitute Roma, or Gypsy, settlement. It lies on Slovakia’s border with Ukraine and Hungary, and is home to about 250 Gypsies, Europe’s poorest minority group. Most of the tin huts have no plumbing, the lanes are muddy, the houses are grimy, and the water from a rusty well is contaminated.
Nicholas Ogu, a social worker, says he knows of several others from Ms Balogova’s village who were married in Britain. — AP SYDNEY — Australia on Tuesday announced it will amend the law to strip dual nationals linked to terrorism of their citizenship for “betraying the country”, but insisted no one would be left stateless.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the new powers would apply to dual nationals who fight with or support jihadists such as Islamic State group or so-called lone wolves who pose a threat on home soil.
But the government backed away from removing citizenship from second-generation Australians. Under that scenario, such nationals linked to terror groups would have been forced to take on the citizenship of their parents’ birth countries.
“The changes will be consistent with our international legal obligation not to leave a person stateless. There will also be safeguards, including judicial review, to balance these powers,” said Mr Abbott.
“These new powers are a necessary and appropriate response to the terrorist threat.
They modernise our laws and bring them closer to those of Britain, Canada, France, the United States and other countries.”
The announcement came as a Sydney mother reportedly abandoned her two children and fled to Syria for a new life under Islamic State, becoming one of more than 100 Australians who have joined the jihadists. At least 30 have been killed.
The government said it was deeply disturbed by the revelations and was monitoring the situation closely.
The Sydney Daily Telegraph said Jasmina Milovanov, a 26-year-old Muslim convert, left her children, aged five and seven, with a babysitter earlier this month and never returned.
It cited her ex-husband as saying she sent a text message telling him she was in Syria.
“The only thing I can think about is my children. I can’t believe she left these two beautiful children. My son was saying in the days afterwards that he hoped ‘my mum is OK’,” said the husband, who was not named.
“Before she (went) I talked to her (about her extreme Facebook posts). I said this is extreme, stupid. I was warning her about who she hangs out with.”
No leniency Ms Milovanov is Facebook friends with former Melbourne woman Zehra Duman, who is known in Australia as the “jihadi bride recruiter” and uses social media to entice women to join the militant group.
Friends of Ms Milovanov, cited by the Telegraph, said she had often talked about marrying a jihadi fighter.
Australia raised its threat level to high last September and has since carried out a series of counter-terrorism raids, with several alleged plots foiled this year.
Canberra has also introduced a series of national security measures to combat the threat, including criminalising travel to terror hotspots and allocating Aus$1.3 billion (M10.98 billion) in extra funding to police and security agencies.
Mr Abbott said people who chose to fight with the Islamic State group were “betraying our country and don’t deserve to be citizens of Australia”.
“Our success as a nation is underpinned by a commitment by all Australians to a law abiding, peaceful and open society.
“In an environment in which terrorism is reaching out to our community, we need to ensure this is well understood,” he added.
Mr Abbott also vowed no leniency for returning jihadists who are Australian citizens only.
“They should suffer the full severity of the law, if they get back alive,” he said, adding that around half of the 100 citizens fighting overseas were dual-nationals.
The government plans to introduce the new legislation into parliament within weeks with the decision to strip citizenship at Canberra’s discretion. — AFP
KLARA Balogova rode thousands of miles from Slovakia to england to marry a man she had never met.