'Shocking' - UK government made forced marriages victims pay for their rescue
By Barfi Culture Team
2nd January 2019

The UK government has repeatedly said it will protect and help victims forced into a marriage, but it has quietly been telling victims to cough up money in return for helping them.

It has been revealed today that victims of forced marriages have been charged by the UK government for their rescue. One prominent campaigner called it "shocking". An MP said the revelations were "astonishing".

The details have angered so many campaigners and MPs that its likely the government will have to rethink its policy.

Forcing someone into a marriage is illegal under UK law. The Forced Marriages Unit has specifically been tasked to help such victims, especially when they are abroad.

UPDATE (16 January): The government has now u-turned on this issue. It will no longer charge forced marriage victims.

What happened?

The Times reported today that the UK government had been telling victims they have to find money to cover the costs of their flight home, basic food and shelter. Victims over the age of 18 have been asked to pay and told they won't get their passports back otherwise.

One of the British victims told The Times: "I am trying my best to move on but I’m in debt, I’m struggling. I’ve been put up in a B&B and I’m worried I’ll be homeless. I can’t ask my family for help because of what I was put through. You can’t work without a passport. I called one of the women from the Foreign Office numerous times but she said I had to pay back the money."

Some of the victims have been supported by Southall Black Sisters, but not enough is being done.

One of its founder, Pragna Patel, told the newspaper: "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."

Is that for real?

The Foreign Office says it makes similar requirements of other Britons it has rescued, including when tourists get into trouble. And it says the charge is only for victims above the age of 18.

A spokesman said: "Given these are from public funds, we have an obligation to recover the money. The [government’s] forced marriage unit provides funding for safe houses and non-governmental organisations to ensure victims of forced marriage can get to a place of safety as soon as possible. We do not charge British nationals for this service and work with organisations to support them on return."

Its likely the government will backtrack given the backlash from across the political spectrum. But the charges are real, for now.

Those over 18 who cannot pay can get an emergency loan agreement with the Foreign Office before boarding their flight home, but will have their passports confiscated until they repay. If they do not clear their debt within six months, officials add 10% to their bill.

The reaction

The image above is from a recent campaign by the Forced Marriages Unit.

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