20:25 GMT17 January 2021
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    According to information obtained by The Guardian via a freedom of information request, registrars sent 2,868 Section 24 reports alerting authorities to potential sham marriages in 2018: a 40% rise from the 2,038 registered in 2014. Of those reports last year, 1,618 were deemed worthy of investigation, compared with 1,439 in 2015.

    In an effort to stop people from using marriage to UK or EU citizens as a means to remain in the country, the UK government has reportedly been making it increasingly difficult for migrants to wed in the UK, according to The Guardian's investigation.

    Nath Gbikpi, of Wesley Gryk Solicitors, said the government’s approach to migrant marriages needed to be seen as part of its hostile environment policy.

    “The Home Office has put itself in a position where it can prevent a genuine couple, whom they agree to be in a genuine relationship, to get married,” she said.

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    From dawn raids to see if couples actually shared a bed and wore pajamas, to interrupted wedding ceremonies and “insulting” questioning over their sex lives, Home Office officials have been going to greater lengths to prevent genuine couples from getting married. They are subjected to “gruelling” checks as part of a relentless government crackdown on sham marriages, a Guardian investigation shows.

    Migrant couples have been sharing harrowing experiences of their homes being raided by officials. One couple, Qasim, 29, from Pakistan, and Debora, 33, from Portugal, were asleep at home when four officials arrived in January 2016. “We were questioned separately about our relationship and then Qasim was arrested, taken away and locked up in detention for four months before the Home Office finally accepted that our relationship was genuine,” Debora said.

    “I was in a state of shock and trauma all the time I was in detention,” said Qasim. “It was very insulting that the Home Office came inside our home to check that everything was joined.”

    In another similar case, a couple who sought permission to marry were initially told their relationship would not be investigated, only to have their wedding ceremony interrupted by officials, according to a statement submitted to their lawyers and provided to The Guardian.

    According to the statement, the couple were led into separate rooms and subjected to “insulting” questioning about their sex lives, including details about sexual positions and contraception. Partway through the interview, the distressed woman refused to answer any more questions, with Home Office officials then halting the ceremony and declaring the marriage a sham.

    The humiliated couple nonetheless went ahead with the wedding ceremony for the benefit of the guests, pretending to celebrate.

    In another case, a gay couple had requested permission to enter a civil partnership and reported to a Home Office centre for an interview. They were questioned separately, the British man for 90 minutes and his Thai partner for five hours.

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    After asking to inspect the couple’s phones, the officials discovered an email sent by the Thai man many years before to a former partner, which included a naked photo of himself. To the shock of the couple, the officials proceeded to show the photo to everyone in the interview room.

    “He described the whole experience as disgusting,” the British man said. “They grilled him in a very aggressive way that he found very shocking.” The immigration case was finally concluded a few months ago in the couple’s favour.

    Ever since the law was amended in 2015, registrars are obligated to report to the Home Office in cases when most categories of migrants give notice of marriage. Accordingly, to allow for an investigation, the Home Office was empowered to delay nuptials for up to 70 days.

    A Home Office spokesperson insisted that the government was aiming to ensure that family migration was based on a genuine relationship. “Registrars are given comprehensive evidence-based guidance on circumstances that may raise suspicions about a marriage, such as certain behaviours and the level of information one party knows about another,” the spokesperson said. “It would then be for Home Office immigration officials to decide whether or not to investigate further.”

    Elizabeth Ruddick, of Wilsons Solicitors, said: “Home Office officials may come to your home early in the morning and check up on the number of toothbrushes … The Home Office has the right to interfere every step of the way, and some registrars have become infected with the culture of the hostile environment.”

    sham, UK, Migrants, Marriage, UK Home Office, United Kingdom
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