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UK Foreign Office Made Forced Marriage Victims Pay 'Human Rights' Loans – Report

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The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has come under fire for helping to repatriate women fleeing exploitation but obliging victims to pay back the costs, new documents reveal.

Vulnerable persons appealing to the UK government for help were liable for flight, food and accommodation costs, according to a Freedom of Information Act release to the Times. If the debts were not paid to authorities in six months, 10 percent of the loan cost was added.

The Foreign Office lent roughly £7,765 to such victims over the last two years, with £4,522 left unpaid, according to the Times. The FCO repatriated 27 forced marriage victims in 2017 and 55 in 2016.

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Four women rescued from a Somali correctional school who had been chained and beaten were also charged £740 by the FCO to return to the UK.

Several MPs and organisations have slammed the Foreign Office, with Tory Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugendhat tweeting that the government "shouldn't be charging the most vulnerable" over human rights issues.

Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper lambasted the Foreign Office. "Completely appalled by this," she said. "Forced marriage is slavery."

"These are vulnerable young women who have been taken abroad through no fault of their own and forced into slavery and yet they are being asked to pay for their protection, Southall Black Sisters founder Pragna Patel said.

"It can't be right. Protecting victims from forced marriage must be seen as a fundamental right and not a profit-making business."

A UK Foreign Office spokeswoman responded: The UK was a "world-leader in the fight to tackle the brutal practice," adding that "many of the victims who the Forced Marriage Unit help are vulnerable, and when offering any type of support their safety is our primary concern."

"We recognise that an emergency loan can help remove a distressed or vulnerable person from risk when they have no other options, but as they are from public funds we have an obligation to recover the money in due course."

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