Anger as UK women forced into marriage must pay for rescue

Jeremy Hunt was urged to take action. Picture: PA Wire
Jeremy Hunt was urged to take action. Picture: PA Wire
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Senior MPs have demanded answers after it emerged the Foreign Office has made British women forced into marriages abroad pay hundreds of pounds for their own rescue.

Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons foreign affairs committee, said he was “deeply concerned” by the revelations as he called on Jeremy Hunt to publish all information on the Foreign Office’s charging policy.

SNP MP Alison Thewliss said the claims were “jaw-dropping” and condemned what she called a “cruel system of bureaucracy” facing vulnerable women in need.

The Foreign Secretary, who is in Singapore at the start of a three-day visit to Asia, said he wanted “to get to the bottom” of the issue.

He said: “Any interventions that I have had on these consular matters I have always stressed to embassies and posts abroad that they need to use discretion. Of course we should always behave with compassion and humanity in every situation.”

It was reported that victims had to either pay for plane tickets, basic food and shelter themselves or, if they are over 18, take out emergency loans with the department. Victims face a 10 per cent surcharge if funds are not repayed within six months, it was claimed.

In a letter to Mr Hunt, Mr Tugendhat said: “Members of the foreign affairs committee are deeply concerned that victims may be forced to pay for their own rescue or, worse, may be dissuaded from asking for help if they have not got the funds.”

He demanded a response by the end of next week, and called on the Foreign Office to publish the data on the number of women charged in the past five years, the average charges and more details around the loan agreements reached. Mr Tugendhat also requested information on what other services the Foreign Office charges for.

The Foreign Office, which jointly runs a Forced Marriage Unit with the Home Office, said it had an obligation to recover money spent on repatriating victims when public money was involved, such as the cost of a flight back to the UK.

It is understood the women are not charged for staff costs and the department does not profit from the repatriations.

The department helped 27 victims of forced marriage return to the UK in 2017 and 55 in 2016, according to figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws. In the past two years the Foreign Office has lent £7,765 to at least eight forced marriage victims for their repatriation. Around £3,000 has been repaid.