By Alexia Evripidou
LOCAL authorities are preventing the marriage of a heavily pregnant woman and her partner, citing immigration rules which are not actually required by law, according to the couple’s legal representatives.
Bulgarian Slavka Mitkova who is 24-weeks pregnant, and her illegal immigrant husband Gulzeb Khan from Pakistan were married by the World Islamic Call Society, in Nicosia in December 2013. The couple wish to have a civil ceremony and leave Cyprus.
However bureaucracy is preventing them from doing so and Khan is now being sought by immigration police in an attempt to deport or detain him.
According to a source from the Andreas Kareklas legal office, which represents the couple: “The immigration office verbally rejected their application and told them that they wouldn’t put it down in writing”.
The couple have been told that they cannot legally marry as they do not have the ‘necessary certificate proving that that they are single’. The document, which is requested by the municipalities, although is not legally compulsory, is often demanded before allowing people to marry.
Khan, whose file as an asylum seeker was rejected is the father of Mitkova’s unborn child. Both want a civil wedding so they can migrate from Cyprus to Mitkova’s home country Bulgaria and begin their family life. The municipality they went to in Cyprus insists on both parties presenting a document confirming their current marital status, ie, whether they are single or married by law.
The pair have applied for the ‘certificate’ from the Immigration Department several times since January only to be sent away empty handed without any explanation.
The document is issued by the immigration office to ensure that people seeking marriage are not already wed to someone else. The same information is also requested from couples’ countries of origin. Khan who is technically on the wanted illegal immigrant list, wishes to leave Cyprus but feels he “is being forced to stay”.
Kareklas’ representative argues: “The municipalities have interpreted the certificate as a marriage licence… the immigration is supplying it as a marriage licence… they are duping the system”.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source in the municipality in question confirmed to the Sunday Mail that “the immigration services have a marriage department which holds information on people’s marital status.
When a request for the certificate is made, departmental staff will search through the records and issue the relevant certificate to specify a person’s marital status”.
The source added that the interior ministry requested that municipalities “must have the certificate before they are permitted to marry people. The purpose is purely supposed to establish a person’s marital status in Cyprus. However, we are advised to use it to see if a person is an illegal immigrant and therefore stall the process”.
The source went on to confirm that it does not specify anywhere in the law that an illegal immigrant is not actually allowed to marry in Cyprus.
Khan and Mitkova gave a sworn affidavit in Nicosia Court in February, stating their intention to leave Cyprus to raise their family in Bulgaria. “They are prepared to buy a one way ticket and show evidence of it, as well as doing a DNA test if any official doubts the paternity of the child,” said the municipality source.
The legal source from the Kareklas Law Office explained how the couple repeatedly get sent home and are told to wait “without any explanation”.
“However on attending the immigration office personally, I was shown a note under Khan’s name saying ‘illegal’. Staff are advised not to give him his legally entitled papers, which is a breach of the law, because even as an illegal immigrant he is entitled to this certificate confirming his marital status”.
Although Khan, has been to the immigration office several times he was not detained. However, immigration police went to the couple’s house on Thursday night at 10pm and handcuffed a fellow Pakistani man currently in Cyprus to study, while Khan jumped out of the first story window. Mitkova was then questioned by the four officers in their home.
An immigration official, who did not wish to be named, told the Sunday Mail that under Article 31 of The Marriage Law, a civil registrar has “no obligation to have this paper but the ministry of interior wants people to have it before marriage”.
Khan frets that if he is not given the permission to marry legally here and is sent to Pakistan. “I will lose my baby and I will lose my wife…and then what would I do?”
The immigration official said all people, Cypriot and foreign, have the right to apply for this ‘certificate’. “But without a residency permit, we cannot give it to them,” even though this goes against human rights laws, the official added.
He said the minister and director of immigration asked the municipalities to make sure they have this certificate. “The director of immigration has requested that an application of an illegal person gets rejected,” said the immigration official.
Kareklas’ representative presented the Sunday Mail with a series of official documents, one of which quotes Head of Immigration Annie Shakalli. The document which was used in a 2012 Supreme Court case, and refers to the ‘certificate to prove marital status’. In it Shakalli states: “In no case is it necessary that the paper in question is asked as a requirement for a legal wedding”.
The legal representative reiterates: “Even as an illegal immigrant, Khan still has a legal constitutional right to request getting married. What the immigration department is doing, is clearly a violation of the law”.
Two reports issued by the Ombudswoman’s Office in 2008 and 2013 write: “The immigration service has to check whether the marriage is a sham or not, so they can issue a certificate. This is a vague and confusing practice……although it is done in goodwill, it doesn’t have a legal basis”.
The Ombudswoman further disagrees “with checking whether the marriage is a sham or not because it could exclude a lot of people from practising their lawful rights to marry based on the procedure that doesn’t have to do with proof but on speculation”.
Executive Director of the immigrant support group KISA, Doros Polycarpou also reiterated the general consensus. “This practice of the government is wrong. It is not in the best interest of society. If you, as the governments do not respect the law, then you push people to the law to seek help. KISA said that they recognise the difficulties in investigating whether a marriage is legal or not but the complicated situation can not be used as an excuse to deny people their legal rights to actually get married.
The couple filed a complaint at the Ombusdwoman’s office and have been assured that a letter has been written that will be signed on the Ombudswoman’s return from holiday and sent to immigration services.
According to the source of the legal firm Karaklas: ”Khan is seen as a illegal immigrant and that is why he is not allowed to marry here. Once the baby is born, however, he would have the right to apply to live and work here as the father of a European citizen anyway, so why not let them marry and go home”.
The source insists that keeping the family here unmarried, will be a bigger cost to the taxpayer, as according to the welfare office, as a single mother, Mitkova would legally be entitled to draw monthly state benefits for the next 18 years.