UK will no longer charge forced marriage victims for their rescue

The UK government has done a U-turn on a policy that required victims of forced marriages overseas to pay back the cost of their rescue.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said victims who returned to the UK would no longer be required to take out loans from the government, which in some cases were used to pay back airfares, food and shelter, according to an investigation by British newspaper The Times.

Hunt, after promising he would investigate the newspaper’s findings, wrote to the chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee and said that “after careful consideration” he had “decided that victims of forced marriage who are helped to return to the UK by the Forced Marriage Unit will no longer be asked to take out a loan for their repatriation costs.”

The Foreign Secretary said British citizens who were forced into marriages abroad “constituted a category of exceptionally vulnerable people in need of specific help” and that the “treatment of vulnerable Britons abroad should always be guided by compassion.”

Hunt added that victims with outstanding loans would no longer have to pay them back and that “their passports will also be unblocked.”

Earlier in January, The Times revealed it had obtained a Freedom of Information request that showed that over the past two years, the UK Foreign Office had lent £7,765 ($9,900) to at least eight victims.

Roughly £3,000 ($3,825) of this has been repaid — with debts of more than £4,500 ($5,740) remaining.

A 10% surcharge was also added to emergency loans not repaid within six months, under Foreign Office terms and conditions.

The Foreign Office told CNN at the time that as the rescue costs were from “public funds” it had an “obligation to recover the money in due course.”

The Times reported that among the victims were several young British women who were sent by their families to Somalia, where they were physically abused.