The Independent has learnt that British citizens who have been forced into marriages overseas are being asked to cover the costs of their repatriation to the UK.
Under guidelines distributed by the Forced Marriage Unit to civil servants and diplomats abroad, victims who cannot find enough cash are even being asked to take out a low interest loan which will only be given to them if they surrender their passport until the loan is fully repaid.
AdvertisementThe guidelines, which are contained in a 105-page document entitled "Handling Cases of Forced Marriages", were drawn up earlier this year and distributed to civil servants involved with forced marriage cases and victims of so-called "honour violence".
In a chapter entitled "Repatriation", officials working overseas are warned that many forced marriage victims will be "extremely traumatised and frightened" by the time they arrive or flee to British embassies. Those seeking the protection of their Government "may have been held against their will for many months or years?may have been raped?Sometimes they will have risked their life to escape."
But on the same page the guidelines also advise officials to try and recoup the costs of repatriating the same people back to Britain.
"The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is obliged to ask the person or trusted friends to fund the cost of repatriation," the report states.
On the following page, embassy officials are advised what to do if the victims cannot pay for their own return home.
The emergence of the guidelines comes just days after The Independent revealed that two of Britain's most prominent charities working with victims of forced marriages have had their Government funding slashed.
The Honour Network, which runs Britain's only national helpline for forced marriage victims, and the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation are now reliant on public donations and say they will have to begin cutting vital services unless more money can be found.
Opposition politicians, however, have attacked the repatriation methods as "heartless" and said that confiscating a victim's passport until a loan was repaid was a tactic "reminiscent of those used by people traffickers."
The Forced Marriage Unit, which is run jointly by the Home Office and the Foreign Office, receives approximately 1,600 calls every year, 300 of which result in repatriation.
Pakistan, Bangladesh and India are the most common countries for British women to be forcibly married abroad. These three embassies have a dedicated team that specializes in locating victims.