Foreign Office condemned as forced marriage victims made to pay for safe return to UK
The Foreign Office has come under fire from MPs and campaigners after it was revealed that forced marriage victims are being made to pay for their repatriation.
According to the Times, those returned to Britain after appealing to the Government for help are liable for the cost of flights, food and accommodation associated with their rescue.
Adult victims of exploitation without the necessary funds are forced to sign loan agreements with the Foreign Office and have their passports confiscated until the debt is paid.
If the cash is not received by the authorities within six months of their return, 10% is added to the bill.
MPs and campaigners have responded angrily to the news, with influential Commons committee chiefs condemning the practice.
Tory chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, said on that although the Government should be proud of its work tackling forced marriages it “shouldn’t be charging the most vulnerable for their own protection or dissuading them from asking for it”.
Yvette Cooper, who heads the Home Affairs Committee, blasted: “Completely appalled by this. Forced marriage is slavery.
“For Govt to make victims pay for their freedom is immoral. Ministers need to put this right fast.”
Labour meanwhile branded the move "morally repugnant" and accused ministers of "rank hypocrisy".
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said: "Dozens of the most vulnerable women in the most desperate circumstances have been penalised for turning to their government for help, and many more may have been put off from seeking that help because of the costs involved.
"The Foreign Office must immediately scrap these charges, and write off all outstanding debts owed by women brought home in recent years."
According to The Times, the number of forced marriage victims repatriated by the Foreign Office was 27 in 2017 and 55 in 2016.
It found that four British women rescued from a Somalia correctional school, where they were held in chains and whipped, were each charged £740 for their safe return home.
Pragna Patel, founder of the charity Southall Black Sisters, said: “These are vulnerable young women who have been taken abroad through no fault of their own and forced into slavery and yet they are being asked to pay for their protection.
“It can’t be right. Protecting victims from forced marriage must be seen as a fundamental right and not a profit-making business.”
Over the past two years the Foreign Office has lent £7,765 to forced marriage victims, £4,522 of which is still owed.
A spokeswoman for the department said the UK was a "world-leader in the fight to tackle the brutal practice".
She added: "Many of the victims who the Forced Marriage Unit help are vulnerable, and when offering any type of support their safety is our primary concern.
"We recognise that an emergency loan can help remove a distressed or vulnerable person from risk when they have no other options, but as they are from public funds we have an obligation to recover the money in due course."