Criminal gangs in Eastern Europe are forcing trafficked women into sexual exploitation and sham marriages, a BBC investigation has found.
Many of these women were forced into sham marriages with men, mainly from Pakistan, who were seeking to apply for residency in the United Kingdom.
The women, who’re EU citizens, are lured to the UK with false promises.
Angelika Molnar, who runs Europol’s human trafficking unit, says the victims were encouraged to leave poverty and deprivation in countries such as Romania and Slovakia with the prospect of a lucrative job in Scotland.
“It’s only upon arrival that they are told there is no work available and they have to be engaged in marriages with Pakistani men,” she said.
Molnar said the potential grooms wanted to stay in Scotland but needed marriage to an EU citizen to be able to apply for residency.
“After the marriage, the women are not only kept under control by the traffickers and exploited as domestic service by the husband but also raped and sexually exploited,” she said.
The BBC sent investigative journalist Sam Poling undercover to expose the tactics used in the supply chain.
She travelled across Eastern Europe to track down victims sold to Glasgow gangs for sex.
In Slovakia she tried to track down victims who had previously been trafficked to Glasgow before being rescued.
When she arrived at one girl’s house to interview her, she discovered the girl was missing. Her parents said she had probably been trafficked to Glasgow, leaving her baby daughter behind.
The BBC team discovered three other girls at other houses had also been trafficked to Scotland.
They filmed one house in eastern Slovakia, which was set up as a “transit house” by a man who bought girls and kept them there for a few days before transporting them to Glasgow for sham marriages.
“Some girls, they have no identity card, they have no passport,” said Yves Ogou, a social worker who works closely with authorities in both Slovakia and Scotland to help rescue and support victims. “Here, within 24 hours we can fix normal identity cards or passports. You pay for that and you have your passport.”
Yves said Glasgow was specifically targeted by Slovakian traffickers because of historical links with Roma communities and their association with third-country nationals seeking UK residency.
“Those people used to go to Glasgow because the first Roma community from here tried to move to Glasgow, Manchester, Bradford and so on,” he said. “That’s their first contact and the traffickers, they have friends, they are friends to people from Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.”
Tracking down sham marriages
To get evidence of sham marriages in Scotland, Poling examined marriage records to look for “red flags”.
The suspicious indicators included young Eastern European brides, older Asian grooms and the same addresses being used for multiple marriages.
She also looked at how many got divorced after five years, the length of time someone has to have residency before being granted a UK passport.
The investigative team found dozens of such marriages in Scotland: 40% of those who married just over five years ago are now divorced.
One address, Westmorland Street in Govanhill, Glasgow had more than a dozen links to marriages between Pakistani men and young Eastern European brides in recent years. Witnesses of the weddings were also registered there; however, couples were not found living at any of the addresses.
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