This week, The Times recently featured a tragic story: Meena, aged eighteen from Bangladesh, whose name it changed, had an arranged marriage to a Bangladeshi man from east London. She arrived in the UK on a two and a half year spousal visa. After five years she would have been able to apply for indefinite leave to remain, but he sent her back to Bangladesh.
She said: ‘One day he told me to get on a plane. I said I would not leave without my son, so he beat me. ‘If you don’t go,’ he said, ‘I’ll kill you.’
For years the British visa and passport has been the object of desperation, scams, and outrageous fraud. Our prisons are full of people who arrived here with false documents or got in and spent their time arranging fake documents for others.
People from all over the world regularly marry to get a British visa. These are sham marriages where both parties know it is a fraud. It is a criminal offence to take part in one but they are easily achieved and rarely investigated. Dozens of fixers are thought to be involved in this international online bridal trade. One ad, entitled ‘Marriage in England,’ reads: ‘Offers of weddings in England. The man provides cover for all costs, including tickets. Plus, you get food and accommodation and a wedding gift of £6,000.’
Another says: ‘I am looking for voluntary, responsible girls who want to earn £4,000 in exchange for marrying a foreigner in England.’ They are shockingly blunt. One simply said: ‘Polish women available for marriage.’
After a bogus marriage scam was revealed last year, former Crown Prosecution chief Nazir Afzal said officials were worried about being accused of ‘racism ‘or ‘religious discrimination’ so might not challenge fake couples.
‘People these days are less likely to ask those kinds of questions,’ he said, ‘because they don’t want to be accused of being racist or religiously discriminatory. The saddest thing is that we the British taxpayer, the public lose out, and that can’t be right.’
Some people marry in good faith believing that the passport or visa is not the real object of their lover’s desire. Some British women rather past their sell-by date at home, use the promise of their passport as bait. There are always impoverished men who will offer sex in return for money and a chance to get to Europe. They are called ‘bumsters’ in Gambia, ‘Rastitutes’ or ‘beach boys’ in the Caribbean and ‘sanky pankies’ in the Dominican Republic.
Recently, it was revealed by a whistle blower using social media that some middle-class volunteers in the Jungle in Calais were there to have sex with migrants, some of whom are underage. According to him, they avail themselves of the Jungle camp prostitutes, while others have multiple partners in one day.
Sex for sale has always been a rough business and in our globalised world sex is more of a commodity than ever before. In the case of powerless women such as Meena, there is also a toxic mix of EU and human rights law which allows the easy buying and selling of human beings in exchange for a passport or a dowry.
Surprisingly, immigration marriage fraud, such as the type that Meena suffered, which was carried out in good faith by one party, according to cultural traditions, is currently NOT considered a crime at all. There are NO consequences for the foreign nationals who suddenly end their marriages after taking large amounts of money from the bride. The Government, UK Border Agency and police will not take any action even if evidence of fraud is produced.
After a ten-year fight, Meena was finally granted leave to remain in 2008. Many of us must feel very sorry for her for what she suffered but ambivalent too about her being here at all. How is it that, in a fiendish plan worthy of a Victorian novel, British Asian men can get away with marrying women from their original homelands in exchange for large amounts of money, only to send them back as used, unwanted goods when they tire of them? The added cruelty is that without a visa they can never return to the UK, or see their children again.
Campaigners say that the men should face criminal sanctions and their wives must be recognised as victims of domestic violence and allowed to come back to Britain. A report by researchers at Lincoln University found many abandoned women in India had been victims of physical violence after they had all given their husbands a dowry.
The situation has not improved since the introduction of a language qualification attached to a spousal visa. The idea was to assist in the further integration of Muslim women. David Cameron outlined the plan in an interview on Radio 4 earlier this year, when he said there were 38,000 Muslim women who could not speak English and 190,000 with limited skills in the language.
He added that all those who entered the UK on the five-year spousal settlement programme would soon have to sit language tests half way through that period. If they failed it they might be deported. Of course nothing like that has happened; it was just more empty rhetoric from a liberal PM.
The problem of cases like Meena’s could be solved by the issuing of a language test for women in their home countries before they were given a spousal visa to enter the UK. At the same time they could also be given information about their rights under British law. That has not been done and they still arrive as bewildered, lonely girls and turn into scared abandoned women in the hands of ruthless, greedy men.
A solution that would be more popular with the British public would surely be to end arranged marriages in the UK if the British-born man intends to take a bride from his original homeland. In the 1980s Margaret Thatcher prevented men bringing in spouses from non-EU countries, in an attempt to cut out the arranged marriage system. This was later overturned by Labour, increasing the number of Asian men in the UK seeing wives abroad whilst ignoring British-born women in their own communities.
The arranged marriage system has consistently hindered the integration of Asian minorities in the UK, and Theresa May, now grappling to give us a ‘hard Brexit,’ should not forget about this issue.
As we look towards a world beyond the EU, surely in 2016 it is not beyond our capacity to expect that women who travel from the Sub-Continent to live and work in the UK, should do so as free, independent people rather than as someone else’s chattel.
(Image: Dave Collier)