Britain is dropping the repatriation charges administered to victims of forced marriages following a public outcry, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Wednesday
“I have decided the victims of forced marriage who are helped to return to the United Kingdom by the Foreign Office Forced Marriage Repatriation Unit will no longer be asked to take out a loan for their repatriation costs,” said Hunt, adding that the state wished to avoid further injury to victims who “have endured particular suffering.”
Last week, four British women were liberated from a punishment institution in Somalia by U.K. officials only to be saddled with flight, food and shelter costs that amounted to almost US$1,000.
The four young women, who were found in a “correctional school,” had been sent to the religious institution by their families and reported being chained to the walls and whipped with hosepipes.
Some had their legs shackled, spent days locked in a small box, were burned with hot sticks and forced to sit in their own urine unless they accepted a forced marriage, The Times said.
In a letter, Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, argued that if women were forced to pay for their own rescue they might be “dissuaded from asking for help.”
Blocks on passports due to non-payment will also be removed.
Hunt said he was happy to change the policy, which should be adminstered with compassion, especially where vulnerable Britons were concerned: “From now, none of those who are assisted by the Forced Marriage Unit will have to cover the costs of their repatriation. Where possible, the government will continue to seek to ensure the costs fall on the perpetrators by means of the forced marriage protection orders.”
Between 2016 and 2017, the British government rescued 82 women, their costs generally absorbed by family or community members, the Foreign Office reports.