Marriages of convenience are a continuing issue for Namibia’s immigration system, and despite warnings by the authorities, these acts continue unabated.
The department of home affairs this week highlighted this contentious issue when it announced that over 70 cases involving so-called sham marriages were investigated, including 10 that were concluded through legal processes. The culprits – all male foreigners – were fined and deported to their countries of origin, according to home affairs deputy minister Maureen Hinda-Mbuende.
It should be noted that complaints about bogus marriages are a long-standing issue. In fact, the Namibian constitution was amended to extend the waiting period required for acquiring Namibian citizenship by marriage from two years to 10 years for foreigners. The authorities then argued that these stricter requirements ensure that the country’s processes are not abused and that local citizens in genuine marriages to foreign nationals are protected.
According to the home affairs deputy minister it has become apparent in recent years that many foreign nationals, in cahoots with local officials and pastors, have resorted to sham marriages as a means of obtaining Namibian citizenship. Although the home affairs department has raised the issue widely, it is worrisome that such subject has not received the attention it deserves over the years.
Yes, it is true there was robust debate in the National Assembly and on radio talk shows when amendments to the constitution were being considered by parliament several years ago. Rightly so, implementing the 10-year conditional waiting period will help deter marriage fraud.
However, some may argue that the “strict” conditional waiting period of ten years is a bit too much, especially for genuine couples who do not harbour ill-intentions. But be that as it may, we can seriously no longer tolerate a situation where countless Namibians end up being duped by foreigners looking for a fast-track into our country. In most cases, according to home affairs, these Namibian women were getting paid as little as N$500 and N$1 000 per month to sustain the illegal act.
As much as many stakeholders are needed to fight this battle, it is high time that government considers stiffer penalties for those aiding and abetting such unlawful acts. Slapping guilty foreigners with a fine, deportation and annulling the marriage is not good enough. Those found guilty must be jailed.
Moreover, there is a serious need for a proactive approach on the part of the authorities in an effort to tackle these phoney marriages. Couples should be subjected to a rigorous screening process in order to curb the problem of quick-fix marriages. This must also include actively investigating suspicious marriages through properly constituted interviews.
Suspicious married couples should be subjected to credit checks, while they should provide proof of identity documents of their children, insurance policies and joint bank accounts, among other measures.