Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has ordered an investigation into allegations that victims of forced marriages were asked to pay Foreign Office officials to rescue them.
Hunt said he would “get to the bottom” of the scandal, revealed by The Times.
“I have asked officials to give me proper advice on the whole issue on the basis of seeing this story,” he told the BBC. “We should always behave with compassion and humanity in every situation.”
An investigation by The Times showed that victims have had to pay hundreds of pounds for basic food and shelter and plane tickets. If they were above 18, they had to take out urgent loans with the Foreign Office.
Tom Tugendhat, the Tory MP and chairman of the foreign affairs committee, wrote to Hunt asking him about the number of women who had been charged in the past five years and the fees that they had been ordered to repay.
He wrote: “Members of the committee are deeply concerned that victims may be forced to pay for their own rescue or, worse, may be dissuaded from asking for help if they have not got the funds. I am sure you will agree that this issue must be addressed urgently.”
He told The Times: “If someone gets themselves into trouble abroad, loses their money, tickets and passport, and needs to be repatriated then, of course, they should pay. But these are young women who have been trafficked and held as slaves. The Foreign Office should no more be charging victims for their repatriation than the police would for slaves held in the UK.”
Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP and chairwoman of the home affairs committee, tweeted that she was “completely appalled”.
“Forced marriage is slavery. For the government to make victims pay for their freedom is immoral. Ministers need to put this right fast,” she wrote.
David Lammy, the Labour MP, pointed out that a white woman would not be treated the same.
“Just like the Windrush scandal [this is] yet more evidence of how differently this government is prepared to treat black or brown British citizens,” he said. “A white woman who had been kidnapped, sold into slavery and raped would never have been asked to pay for her freedom.”