The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) will review its policy on forced marriage after a newspaper investigation revealed that victims are forced to repay the Government the costs of their repatriation.
Last month, the Guardian found that a 17-year-old British woman had sought help from the UK embassy in Islamabad in an attempt to escape a forced marriage.
She was required to sign a loan agreement for a sum of £814 for the cost of repatriation and surrender her passport before she was allowed to fly back to the UK.
It later emerged that she would not have her passport returned until she repays the loan.
In response to the story, the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, said she was shocked to discover that forced marriage victims were being made to pay to return to the UK.
“We are talking about a small number of women being helped to pay their fares to safety,” she said.
“It is encouraging that the FCO are now reviewing their policy, and I hope that this will result in a much-needed change – and quickly.”
Forced marriage was criminalised in 2014, and offenders in England and Wales can now receive a maximum seven-year jail sentence under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
Shaista Gohir, chair of the charity Muslim Women’s Network UK which supports victims of forced marriage, said: “I hope that they do the right thing morally and end the policy of charging forced marriage victims for their flights back to the UK in its entirety. As forced marriage is now a criminal offence, I cannot understand why public funds cannot be used to ensure victims are brought back to safety.
“This is not the same as holidaymakers being stuck abroad after an unexpected incident because they haven’t taken out holiday insurance. Forced marriage victims are being put into the same category as holidaymakers who have failed to protect themselves. This is very unfair.”