THE Zimbabwean Department of Immigration's revelations that it had unearthed a massive marriage scam between foreign men and local women through which the former sought to secure permanent residence permits should put the nation on guard against allowing the nation to be used as a hub for international crime.
While Zimbabwe had become a pariah state on the global stage whose perceptions are not in conformity with the Western worldview, it had to be understood why there was an influx of foreigners, particularly those from West Africa who have a notorious reputation for their dexterity at crime the world over.
A few months ago, the police in Harare – in a clampdown code-named Operation Dzokera (Return) – rounded up over 100 illegal immigrants for deportation. The foreigners, most of whom came from Nigeria, Ghana and Angola, were suspected to have been engaged in a diverse spectrum of underhand dealings. In a calculated bid to evade the often strict and bureaucratic immigration system, some foreigners were allegedly resorting to entering marriages of convenience with Zimbabwean women who they paid handsomely so that they could secure a smooth and hassle-free entry into Zimbabwe. The senior immigration investigative officer, Evans Siziba, recently warned Zimbabwean women against facilitating such “fake marriages” as they risked prosecution.
“We are also strategising on other restrictive measures that can help us detect whether some marriages to foreigners are genuine or a ploy to get permanent residence in this country,” he said.
A local sociologist, Robert Mhishi, said the hordes of foreigners flocking to Zimbabwe despite the unflattering publicity it has been receiving in the foreign media was disturbing and should ring alarm bells.
He said such a situation required thorough investigations as it placed the nation's security at risk, particularly in situations where the motives that drive those people remained unknown.
“The fact that somebody would want to use a fake marriage to secure an entry into another country obviously means that they have a hidden agenda, otherwise why would they want to avoid the proper procedure? As a nation, you don't want a situation where your women would be used as channels to bring in unknown people who may bring down your country,” he said.
Foreigners flooding Zimbabwe – who are understood to be lavish and extravagant spenders – have been accused of crimes that include drug-dealing, manufacture of counterfeit currency and prostitution rackets, he added. A Harare-based social worker, Laura Machinga, said such an emerging trend needed to be curbed immediately as Zimbabwe risked being translated into yet another hub of international crime. While some southern African countries have been known to be transit points for international crime syndicates dealing in counterfeit money, pornography and drug and human trafficking, Zimbabwe had largely remained untouched.
But the significant proliferation of foreigners has raised fears that the country was at a security risk as the agendas driving such an influx were largely unknown. Machinga expressed fears that if measures were not taken immediately, crimes alien to Zimbabwe like human trafficking could begin, adding that even pornography films meant for foreign markets could also be shot as some women were prepared to do anything for foreign currency.
“We may get to a situation where human trafficking starts to take place. “The most disturbing thing, however, could be that such foreigners can start using local young women for pornography. “You'll find that some people can do anything for money, even [for] a few US dollars,” adding that some women were getting married to foreign men not because they were in love with them or that they wanted to live with them, but were doing it as an exchange of favours.
“It is a purely business arrangement where either party is just concerned about the financial benefits to be accrued from such a marital set-up, if you can call it that,” she said. A marriage of convenience, according to Mhishi, is defined as “matrimony that has been entered into formally, but for purposes other than family life in the true sense. In principle, the reasons for entering into a marriage of convenience can be any of the benefits that marriage brings.” The Immigration Department has since indicated that it would tighten legislation on those seeking to marry Zimbabwean women. Siziba said several foreigners who were deported and kept slipping back into the country were found to have committed a series of crimes back in their countries. While getting married to a foreigner is not an offence at law in Zimbabwe, the department said it was concerned with cases where foreigners abused the country's laws to acquire permanent residence. Many countries in the world have enacted laws to clamp down on marriages of convenience. Last month, Maltese Justice and Home Affairs Minister Tonio Borg, said in parliament on a motion to amend that country's Refugees Act that there was need to look seriously at issues involving illegal immigrants, like marriages of convenience.
In South Africa, marriage does not guarantee permanent residency