Police were on Thursday investigating claims of kidnap and sham marriages after foreign women alleged they were brought to the island under false pretences.
According to police, members of the Anti-Trafficking Office on Wednesday evening visited an apartment in Nicosia after receiving information that a woman, 37, was locked inside.
In addition to the woman, police also found six foreign men in the apartment.
The 37-year-old told police she had arrived on the island on February 7 with another woman from the same country and they were then both married off to foreigners. One person, aged 31, has been arrested in connection with the case.
The case is related to the remand of a 30-year-old man from India on Monday for eight days in connection with sham marriages, police spokesman Andreas Angelides told the Cyprus Mail. The man was arrested after two women from Bulgaria reported that he and another man, also from India, had tricked them into coming to Cyprus on the pretence of helping them find work but instead the two men asked the women to marry them for €1,000 each.
The suspect, police said, had paid for the two women’s tickets from Bulgaria. They arrived on February 2 and they were transferred to Nicosia by the suspect and the other man, where they were taken to an apartment.
The 37-year-old woman was located after the two Bulgarian women told the police that there was another woman in the apartment who was being held against her will and who had possibly been raped.
“The 37-year old woman did not so far say she was raped but if it did happen she might say it at a later stage,” Angelides said.
Last Friday, two men from Bangladesh aged 23 and 34 were arrested in Larnaca also in connection with a sham marriage involving a 22-year old Bulgarian woman who had arrived in Cyprus accompanied by her husband to allegedly marry a man from Bangladesh for a fee.
The woman’s name was on the watch list as a potential victim of human trafficking. The 22-year-old’s husband and the groom-to-be were both arrested at a hotel in Larnaca, where the wedding was scheduled to take place.
The woman told police that she was married in Bulgaria, but due to financial problems she was convinced by a compatriot to marry the man from Bangladesh for €1,000 in Cyprus.
Commenting on whether there has been an increase in sham marriages involving EU citizens and third-country nationals, Angelides answered negatively but he said that the police anti-trafficking office had been upgraded and was in a position to better investigate and handle such cases.
The head of non-governmental organisation Stop Trafficking Cyprus, Androula Christophidou told the Cyprus Mail that sham marriages have been around for many years, but that since Bulgaria and Romania became EU-member states, human trafficking rings have boomed in these two countries, as third country nationals see Bulgarian and Romanian women as their ticket to EU citizenship.
These rings trick women coming not only to Cyprus, but other European countries as well, she said.
“There are many ‘family rings’ in Romania and Bulgaria. Usually, a person from a village or a specific area will approach two or three women they know and tell them he or she will take them to Cyprus to help them get jobs or find them a nice husband,” Christophidou said. The unsuspecting women agree, she said, but when they arrive, they are faced with a different reality.
“The traffickers are getting paid for bringing the women to Cyprus, but the women most often are not. And then, if they agree to marry the man presented to them, they are either dumped after no longer being needed, and left to fend for themselves, or their [new] husbands might even force them to prostitution,” Christophidou said.
She added that if a woman refuses to marry the groom intended for her, she might be held against their will.
“This is no different from the artiste visas cabaret owners used to utilise to bring women from abroad to work for them, under the promise they would earn a lot of money. They used to withhold their documents, keep them locked up, and pay them very little money,” Christophidou said.
She added that following her own and other organisations’ campaigns, the artiste visas were abolished sometime in 2010, and a new system was introduced as regards women working in such places. This led to a dramatic decrease in the number of cabarets, from 108 in 2007 to 11 today, Christophidou said.