World

U.K. forced marriage victims charged repatriation costs

AFP-JIJI

Britain is charging young women rescued from forced marriages abroad for the cost of their repatriation, The Times newspaper revealed Wednesday.

Four British women who were liberated from a punishment institution in Somalia were each charged £740 ($940), the daily said.

Victims are told they have to fund their flight back to Britain, basic food and shelter costs, it reported.

Those who are aged over 18 and cannot pay have to sign emergency loan agreements with the Foreign Office.

The ministry helped bring back 55 forced marriage victims in 2016 and 27 in 2017.

The four young women who were found in a “correctional school” in Somalia had been sent to the religious institution by their families, and reported being chained to the walls and whipped with hose pipes.

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.

The Foreign Office and the Home Office interior ministry run the Forced Marriage Unit and from 2009 to 2017, the FMU has given advice or support to nearly 12,800 people.

Marriages without consent, or their refusal, have led to suicides and so-called honor killings in Britain, with several cases coming to national prominence.

Since 2014, forced marriage has been a crime in Britain carrying a maximum seven-year prison sentence.

In the past two years, the Foreign Office has lent £7,765 to at least eight forced marriage victims who could not pay for their repatriation.

Around £3,000 has been repaid, although debts of more than £4,500 are outstanding.

A 10 percent surcharge is added if an emergency loan is not repaid within six months.

“Given these are from public funds, we have an obligation to recover the money,” a Foreign Office spokesman said.

“The FMU provides funding for safe houses and nongovernmental organizations to ensure victims of forced marriage can get a place of safety as soon as possible.

“We do not charge British nationals for this service and work with organizations to support them on their return.”

However, news of the compulsory charges has prompted criticism in Britain.

Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chairman of a parliamentary committee that monitors the work of the Foreign Office, called it “astonishing,” and vowed to scrutinize the policy.