The UK government has acted to reverse its policy of making British victims of forced marriage over the age of 18 pay to be rescued from overseas. A report in the Times published on 2nd January 2019 revealed that the Foreign Office was charging forced marriage victims for the costs of rescuing them from abroad. The report revealed that victims were being told that they needed to pay hundreds of pounds for their flights home or, if they were unable to pay, sign emergency loan agreements with the Foreign Office before they could board flights home. To make matters worse, victims were required to surrender their passports as security for the loans. A Freedom of Information request lodged by the Times showed that the Foreign Office had loaned £7,765 to at least 8 victims of forced marriage in the last 2 years. The work by the Times to highlight this problem builds on the work of the Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWNUK), who have been campaigning for a change in this policy for over two years.
Following the publication of the report, the government acted swiftly to change its policy. Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, confirmed in a letter to Tom Tugendhat, the Chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, dated 8th January 2019 that the Foreign Office will no longer require victims to pay the costs of repatriation, or take out loans to meet these costs. Mr Hunt also confirmed that those people with outstanding loans will have no further costs fall on them, and that their passports will be released.
Although this change in policy is to be welcomed, the question remains as to why the government thought it was acceptable to charge victims of forced marriage for their rescue in the first place, and why it took a report by a national newspaper to force a change in policy when the MWNUK had been campaigning on this issue for years. Forced marriage is a serious and significant issue in certain communities in the UK and the government has previous stated its commitment to better tackle this problem through organisations such as the Forced Marriage Unit. However, the strength of the government’s resolve must surely be questioned in the light the length of time that this harmful and punitive policy was in operation.
For more information about the law in respect of forced marriage, and recent legal developments, see our previous article at:
Written by: Edward Nicklin (Trainee Solicitor)