Successful visa appeals mean courts give green light to forced marriages
Richard Ford, Home Correspondent
From The Times
March 26, 2008
British courts are overturning decisions taken by immigration officers that would have protected men and women from being forced into marriage.
The director of UK Visas said that appeals to the courts were often successful because people sponsoring foreigners to enter Britain were too frightened to admit that the applicants were being forced into marriage. Mark Sedwill said that 452 visas for Pakistani applicants were refused last year on the ground of family abuse, of which the majority were because of fears of forced marriage. He said that 116 cases were taken to appeal and 37 were successful.
Victims of forced marriage may even have been put in the position of giving evidence to the immigration tribunal in Britain to back their spouses appeals, Mr Sedwill admitted. This is the real tragedy of this situation, that sponsors are forced into this position, he told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into domestic violence yesterday.
The only right of appeal against the immigration tribunals decision is on a point of law.
Mr Sedwill said that sponsors of spouses or fiances were often unwilling to make a public statement about the nature of the family abuse, including forced marriage, because they were frightened of the family reaction. He said that, of the 452 refusals, 252 involved British citizens who had reluctantly been required to sponsor an applicant from Pakistan and 86 were vulnerable adults, including people who were severely disabled.
One of the cases involved a disabled man in his early thirties whose parents could no longer look after him, so they attempted to marry him to a girl from the Indian sub-continent, he said.
In addition, there were 30 reluctant sponsors of Bangladeshi visa applications and 12 of Indian applications.
Overall 5,500 spousal settlement applications from the Indian sub-continent were refused last year, he said. Within that 5,500 there are quite a number of cases where there has been some sort of compulsion, where the couple have not met or are under 18, Mr Sedwill told MPs.
The committee was also told that people who sponsored an applicant for a visa were not routinely interviewed by officials, despite growing concern within the Government about the issue of forced marriage.
Applicants are interviewed formally and have to answer between 50 and 100 questions.
Mr Sedwill said: They [sponsors] dont necessarily go through a formal process of interview. In all of those cases where a sponsor has let us know that forced marriage is an issue, the sponsor will be interviewed either by telephone or in person.
Its not an immigration interview, but they will be interviewed by consular staff or by the forced marriage unit in the UK in order to gather the information that allows us to make a decision.
Meg Munn, a junior Foreign Office Minister, said that one reason why sponsors were not interviewed was because of the sheer volume of the situation. A total of 47,000 spouses entered Britain on settlement visas last year, including 17,000 from the Indian sub-continent.
Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, accused the Government of complacency. I do not understand why the sponsor and the applicant cannot be interviewed to find out if the marriage is genuine or not, he said.
Forced Marriage Units phone number, to be called if you are worried that you or someone you know may be forced into marriage
Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office