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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 April 2019

UK stops policy to make forced marriage victims repay flight fees

The government will seek to make the perpetrators pay instead

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered the change after an immediate review. AFP.
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered the change after an immediate review. AFP.

Victims of forced marriage will not longer have to pay for their return to the UK, the foreign office has announced.

The Times reported earlier this month that those lacking the financial means to cover food, water, shelter and flights had to take out an emergency loan. The news was met with astonishment and anger.

The government will now try to ensure the financial strain falls on the perpetrators "where possible."

Any of those with unpaid loans will not have to pay any the outstanding debt and their passports will be unblocked.

It follows comments on January 1 by Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, who applauded the work of the UK’s forced marriages unit but tweeted: “We shouldn’t be charging the most vulnerable for their own protection or dissuading them from asking for it.”

In response, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt told Mr Tugendhat, a fellow Conservative MP, of the “immediate policy change.”

“Whereas the Foreign Office rightly expect 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 own wishes, or under false pretences,” he wrote.

In 2016-17 the forced marriages unit helped 82 people to return to the UK. Most were able to pay their costs but 12 were not.

According to a freedom of information request by The Times at least eight people were loaned £7,765 (Dh36,385). Roughly £3,000 (Dh 14,057) remained unpaid but more than £4,500 (Dh21,086.) remain outstanding.

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Read more:

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Previously under foreign office conditions a surcharge of 10 per cent was added if the debt was not paid off within six months.

The controversial practise was first brought to public attention by the Muslim Women’s Network UK two years ago. The policy was amended to not includ 16 and 17-year-olds but remained unchanged for adults.

Updated: January 9, 2019 10:01 PM

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