The marriage of strangers
Sudden spike in the number of unions between Spaniards and Nigerians in Murcia area raises police suspicions12 February 2008
MURCIA - "Although nothing should shock you these days, it did seem very strange that a 50-something English woman, who was protestant and had got married before in a civil ceremony before getting divorced, would want to marry a 20-year-old Nigerian guy who didn't speak any Spanish."
Those are the words of Domingo Ballester, one of the priests who raised the alarm with the Civil Guard after a huge increase in what appear to be marriages of convenience in the diocese of Cartagena - mostly between Nigerian men and women of Gypsy origin.
The alarm was first raised by the parish priests, Ballester says, after they became suspicious of the documents presented by several people wanting to get married. "As the applications for weddings stacked up, we realised that the majority of the birth details were identical, and in some cases it was obvious that they were fake," explains Ballester.
It was in fact the lax requirements for religious ceremonies that first attracted the people arranging these marriages of convenience, police sources say, the aim being to obtain residency for immigrants through a legal union with a Spaniard. But the criminal activity was uncovered by several parish priests.
Many of the women involved came from the surrounding provinces, such as Albacete or Alicante - they'd only been in Murcia for a month perhaps, or even as little as a day.
"In some cases, the priest would go to the address where their documentation said they resided to tell the women that they should come to pre-marital classes. They would be told by the neighbours that the women didn't live at those addresses, and that they had never even seen them. In such cases an application for marriage would be made in a different parish."
The parish priest of La Alberca, Alfonso Moya, was one of the first people to notice the anomaly regarding such unions, which are recorded in the civil registry. "I told the diocese about it because something didn't sound right. The couples would come to see me and sometimes I wouldn't be able to sleep for worrying about whether or not I should go ahead with the service."
The priest noticed "an absolute avalanche of this type of wedding. But I put the brakes on because in two months I married more than 20 couples where one of the partners was foreign. If I hadn't stopped when I did, the number would be in the hundreds."
A further 40 cases of alleged marriages of convenience are under investigation, while the public prosecutor has instructed the police to conduct enquiries as to whether there is an organised gang behind the recent rash of such unions.
[Copyright EL PAÍS / TONO CALLEJA 2008]
Subject: Spanish news