British women rescued from forced marriages abroad will no longer be required to take out loans to cover the cost of their return home, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.
Mr Hunt said the victims helped to return to the UK by the Government’s forced marriage unit would in future be treated as “exceptionally vulnerable people” in need of help when it came to repatriation costs.
Earlier this month Mr Hunt promised to investigate after The Times reported victims were being required either to pay for plane tickets, food, and shelter themselves or, if they were over 18, take out an emergency loan with the Foreign Office.
In a letter to the chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat, Mr Hunt said, after “careful consideration”, he had decided those assisted by the unit would no longer be asked to take out such loans.
“This joint unit was established in 2005 because the government of the day recognised that British citizens who are forced into marriage constituted a category of exceptionally vulnerable people in need of specific help.
“I have decided to apply this principle to the treatment of repatriation costs,” he said.
“Whereas the Foreign Office rightly expects that adult Britons who receive consular assistance will, in general, pay for their own travel home, victims of forced marriage may have endured particular suffering.
“They will often have travelled abroad against their wishes or under false pretences.
“From now on, none of those who are assisted by the forced marriage unit, and would previously have been offered a loan, will have to cover the costs of their repatriation.”
Mr Hunt said that, where possible, the Government would continue to seek to recover the costs from the perpetrators through forced marriage protection orders.
He said that, of the 82 individuals helped by the unit to return to the UK in 2016-17, only a “small minority” made use of Foreign Office loans.