Forced marriage victims will not have to pay own rescue costs, Foreign Secretary confirms

British women forced into marriages abroad will no longer have to pay for their own rescue, the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced.

The move comes amid controversy over the Foreign Office charging policy after it emerged that victims were being made to take out emergency loans to cover the cost of their repatriation.

The Whitehall department, which jointly runs a forced marriage unit (FMU) with the Home Office, had previously said said it had an obligation to recover money spent on repatriating victims when public money is involved, such as the cost of a flight back to the UK.

The practice of recouping the cost of helping vulnerable citizens return home has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum.

But responding to a question in the House of Lords, Foreign Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said: “Today the Foreign Secretary has announced that victims of forced marriage, who are helped to return to the United Kingdom by the forced marriage unit, will no longer be asked to take out a loan for their repatriation costs.

“Furthermore, no individual assisted by the forced marriage unit, who would have previously been offered a loan, will have to cover the cost of their repatriation.”

Former lord speaker and independent crossbencher Baroness Hayman, who had raised the issue, said: “I am extremely grateful for that answer and very glad that I don’t have to berate the minister… on an issue which frankly was a disgrace.

“I’m glad to, to understand that the debts that are still around the necks of some of these very vulnerable woman who have been repatriated to this country will be wiped out.

“Could he also reassure me that their passports, which were confiscated will also be returned to them?”

She added: “I wonder whether he could look very carefully at whether there are other such practices that go on, when the victims of crime, British citizens abroad, need consular help in order to come home after a crime has been committed against them.”

Lord Ahmad said: “Anyone with outstanding loans in this respect… we are proactively reaching out on anyone who has been impacted and those loans will of course no longer apply.

“Those who have had passports blocked, those will also be returned.”

He confirmed the Foreign Office was looking to ensure that no victim of crime abroad “has to suffer the costs of repatriation”.

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