EU women lured for sham mar­riages

Lesotho Times - - International -

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.

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