PROTECTION MARRIAGE- An interview with a couple in a so-called fictitious marriage

The number of recognized asylum-seekers is continually sinking. In view of the asylum process in Germany, the possibility to obtain asylum or permanent residence is only given to a few refugees. Marriage is a possibility to protect people from deportation. Whereas all over Germany, German couples are not required to give reasons as to why they want to marry, and binational pairs are only allowed to marry out of love.

Andrea: Binational marriages in Germany are placed under suspicion as being fictitious – what precautions have you undertaken in order to escape suspicion and therefore avoid inquiries/investigations by the foreigner office?

Bernd: We really prepared ourselves well. We gathered a lot of information and spoke with people that already had similar experiences. We knew we had to disperse of any suspicion from the beginning, so we always went together and were as self-confident as possible in the registrar and foreigner offices. By all means evident, a couple in love. For our wedding we borrowed a ring that some friends lent us and acted the ceremony out. That was actually fun. Secondly it was essential to give the same registered address, as separate addresses makes the foreigner office immediatly suspicious. That was no problem for us because my house is big enough and the landlord didn´t ask any stupid questions. In relation to our neighbours, we also made sure to act as a married couple during this time.

Fatima: I came to visit regularly though I lived with a friend, of course without being registered there. I was also really happy that Bernd would often clean the hallway stairs on a Saturday in order to be noticeable in the house. In one case, the immigration authorities were there and questioned a neighbour, who then told us later. But for us that was everything. For the whole year before I received my residential status we didn´t have a problem.

Bernd: We are friends with two other "married couples" and communicate with them regularly. With the one couple, the women had the German passport and the man was younger. They immediatly ran into big problems. The differences were way too obvious and general suspision ensued. They had repeated house visits, which were at first unannounced. The woman was alone and refused to let the authorities in. They wanted to see if her partner's clothes and toothbrush were there and check whether it was a joint household. They had no right to just come in. Netherless, suspicion rose when she didn't let them in. That was so stressful that they both decided to arrange an appointment with the office. They prepared themselves well and the clothes of the spouse were always in the house.

Fatima: With the third couple, we know a neighbour made a statement to a field officer from the foreigner office that he had never seen the wife in the house. That was definitely not a good move. This neighbour was just an idiot and made claims just to make problems for our friend. In any case, from then on there were a lot of problems and it was only until there was the support of a lawyer and the threat of legal action that the office gave up, and after a long delay, granted an unlimited residence permit.

Andrea: What are the improvements of the legal situation for immigrants through the marriage of a German partner? What moved you, in your case, to take the step towards marriage?

Fatima: I was still in the process of seeking asylum, which was at first rejected, but still had the remote possibiIity to go before the court of law to get legal status. I was so unsure and it could have taken forever. During this time the situation affected me psychologically. I had to live in fairly shitty housing and at first was not allowed to work, and then, at best, the shitty "before you have rights" jobs. But with marriage it was immediately different. I could and had to live somewhere else, got a half year allowance to stay and more importantly a work permit. At the time of the marriage, I was not in acute deportation danger, but my chances were bad and having a long totally insecure situation and dire living conditions would have destroyed me. To this extent marriage, for me, was the only possible hope.

Bernd: For a long time I was already in good contact with Fatima's relatives. She knew as well, that in principle, I was ready to marry. We discussed the advantages for a long time, like Fatima just described them, they were obvious.

Andrea: What problems arose for you (as with the German passport) in daily life? What experiences have you had?

Bernd: I can say in our or my case the problems or, better said, the obligations bound to my marriage were limited. Sure, in the beginning there was a lot of running from office to office. And as we mentioned earlier, it was very important that we always turned up together. Financially, we had no problems. I had a steady job and it was agreed that my wife should also immediately look for work. Then either both work, or both live from social benefits. The mutual obligation to pay support has, of course, problems. We immediately made a marriage contract to solve questions regarding separation of goods and pension entitlement, so that no obligations existed between us. It was arranged that all additional costs would be taken on by Fatima because I could not afford any financial disadvantages from the marriage. I have lent her money here and there, but she gave that back to me later. She was very responsible and so far we haven't had any problems, though I do know of complicated problems with other marriages when agreements have not been met or if financial problems have accumulated.

Andrea: A "fictitious marriage" can, according to § 92 Section 2 Nr. 2 Aus/G (Ausländergesetz = foreigner law), lead to 3 years imprisonment or a fine. This paragraph didn't seem to scare you – why not? Don't you have fear of being denunciated?

Fatima: It was clearly in both of our interests to be careful, and for us to always be informed about each other. But for the foreigner office it's really difficult to prove a fake marriage, if we haven't made any mistakes. A statement from a neighbour is not really enough evidence. I was registered for a while in another house because otherwise l wouldn't have been able to get the flat that l needed. But l had prepared a good reason why, in case the office found out and started asking questions. And yes l was scared of everything in the beginning. I was nervous having to go to all the offices and often very depressed. Before and during the marriage l often thought somehow it's definitely going to go wrong. But that soon stopped.

Bernd: I don't know whether people have already been locked up, but l don't think so. And l would have no problem paying a fine for trying to give someone the possibility to stay here, even if it didn't work. Much worse would be the deportation of the spouse. But as Fatima said earlier, the probability of getting caught is very unlikely if you don't make any big mistakes. If you don't let them scare you and do not admit anything in front of the authorities if they ask stupid questions, or all of a sudden appear at your door.

Andrea: A marriage produces dependences and perhaps also difficult relationship situations. For a spouse, the stay depends on the marriage and sometimes perhaps love or pretending to be in love. How do you deal with that?

Fatima: For us that was relatively easy. We got to know each other through my brother, so as far as that goes, l trusted that Bernd would behave fairly. Sure l was dependent, but the situation was well explained and also somehow "controlled", also because we had different friends to talk with about it. A love relationship for us was never an issue. We even talked about the fact that it would actually be to our disadvantage if we had an intimate relationship, because we could run into problems and jealousy could play a part. That sounds theoretical, but we really didn't have any intimate feelings for each other. That was different for friends that were also a "couple". They had already discussed beforehand that they wanted no mixture of romantic attachment with the marriage, yet somehow they fell in love. Of course, in the beginning, that made it easier. They didn't have to act as if they were in love anymore and they wanted to live together anyway. But, after a year, it fell apart and then for the first time it became really difficult.There were mutual hurt feelings, many arguments, and we, as friends, had to arbitrate and pay attention that they were fair to each other within the marriage. That was not so simple, because when they had to go to the authorities together there were situations where it could have easily gone wrong.

Bernd: I find this question very important. Whatever the situation looks like before the marriage: if they are really a couple in love, if that could happen or if that doesn't even come into question, it should all be discussed. At best, together with friends that can, incase a conflict arises, mediate and pay attention that appointments are kept. With that, the question of dependency is, of course, not solved. The person with a German passport is definitely always in the position of requesting a separation which would also change the spouse's staying rights and, with that, could also jeopardise the whole existence of the spouse. Also, if love plays a part, logically the danger exists that this inequality can be used as a threat when things go wrong or dishonest things happen. My experience is that only mutual good friends can then mediate.

Andrea: From your experience what would your advice be to someone wanting to marry as a form of residential security?

Fatima und Bernd: We can only repeat: prepare well, talk about everything possible, not only with a capable lawyer that can help in emergencies, but also involve close friends that can give support, like with the personal problems that we just mentioned. If it is concerning love or financial arrangements that are not kept, keeping it to yourself can be overwhelming.

Andrea: What were your personal reasons to enter into a protection marriage?

Bernd: I have been involved with anti-racism for years and have seen again and again how people can be pushed around and deported, not only in terms of a statistic or in an abstract case, but rather from a personal point of view. Protection marriage was, to this extent, always a necessary and justified option for me. I also see it as a possibility and privilege to use my German passport in a meaningful way.

Andrea: Would you hold marriage as an effective means in the struggle/fight against deportation? Would you appeal to it to be a possibility used more often?

Fatima: Yes definitely, l can say that from my experience alone. Within my circle of friends, there are always people who are urgently looking for someone to marry because their allowance to stay is unsure or they are already being threatened with deportation. Unfortunately, there are not enough people who are willing to deal with the consequences or they have heard of bad experiences, among other things. In any case,that is the reason that many, out of despair, try with money. There is a type of marriage market, and l think one needs to have the right luck in order not to fall into a stupid situation with untrustworthy people that have nothing to lose. It is also important that more "aware" or "political" people practice getting married out of solidarity. Nowadays, it doesn't take as much time for the partner without the German passport to obtain the right to stay. For others there is now also the possibility to extend their right of stay through a same-sex life partnership.

Bernd: I definitely think that protection marriage is effective because with it every person has the definite right to stay because it is successful for many people. But there is often the criticism that it isn't political. On the one hand that is correct, because as we have described, it's connected with theatre and obviously no one can risk too openly to be involved in a definite case of protection marriage. It is rather a "social tactic", where the threat of deportation is undermined. Still, in the end it has a political meaning. To work with protection marriage as an offensive and political issue is a challenge which has been seldom approached.

Andrea: Are there any organisations or Internet forums that can provide contacts about marrying for the purpose of residential security that can be accessed if you have decided to help and protect someone from deportation through marriage?

Bernd: There are definitely advisory offices whose work also includes helping with the sort of problems people may encounter due to a "fake marriage". But that, at best, is only there for personal legal defence and not to fight for rights. But, an internet forum or, a political, virtual marriage market doesn't exist. At least not yet, I hope l'm able to say. That was exactly what l meant when l spoke of the politicizing of this social tactic. In the internet there is definitely the possibility of combining knowledge and experience to help others, to establish direct contact, and finally, to take all the information and place it in an active political context.

Fatima: I can't predict how useful such an extensively anonymous medium is for a concrete marriage settlement. Experience shows that the couple must get to know each other better, or at least go through friends or relations so that there is already a level of trust. This is almost impossible with the internet. However, as a means of sharing knowledge and "propaganda" for protection marriage, maybe it should be tried out.

The identities of the people interviewed are unknown to the publisher.

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