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Archive for January, 2019

‘Landmark’ overhaul for domestic abuse laws

Domestic abuse victims will receive a wide range of new measures to protect them in what ministers say will be landmark legislation.

New laws will for the first time create a legal definition of domestic abuse, to include economic abuse and control.

The long-awaited legislation will also ban abusers from cross-examining victims in family courts.

Campaigners say the measures are a “once in a generation” opportunity to combat the impact of abuse.

Government experts estimate domestic abuse cost society £66bn in 2016/17 and it’s hoped the changes will improve the response.

The draft bill going before MPs will also:

  • Create new powers to force perpetrators into behaviour-changing rehabilitation programmes
  • Make victims automatically eligible for special protections when they are giving evidence in criminal trials
  • Set up a national “domestic abuse commissioner” tasked with improving the response and support for victims across public services

‘Huge relief’ as loans scrapped for forced marriage victims

Campaigners tell Sky News a “massive burden” has been lifted, after Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt intervenes.

Victims of forced marriages brought back to the UK will no longer be asked to take out a loan to repay the cost of their rescue.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the charge would be scrapped immediately after outrage from MPs and charities when it was exposed.

Victims returning home were previously required to pay for their plane tickets, basic food and shelter – or take out a loan with the Foreign Office.

One was billed £814 to be repatriated to the UK from life in a forced marriage in Islamabad, Pakistan, and had to give up her passport until the fee was paid.

The revelation, first reported by The Times, prompted a fierce backlash.

One MP likened it to the Windrush scandal, while another branded it part of a “cruel system of bureaucracy”.

Mr Hunt, writing to the foreign affairs select committee, said forced marriage victims would now be treated as “exceptionally vulnerable people”.

“From now on, none of those who are assisted by the forced marriage unit, and would previously have been offered a loan, will have to cover the costs of their repatriation,” said the foreign secretary.

Jeremy Hunt to investigate ‘morally repugnant’ rescue fees for forced marriage victims

The Foreign Office has been branded “morally repugnant” for charging forced marriage victims for their own rescue as Jeremy Hunt pledged to investigate the policy.

The foreign secretary said Britain should always act with “compassion and humanity” after MPs criticised the practice of recouping the cost of helping citizens return home.

Victims must pay for their plane ticket, food and shelter themselves, or – if they are over 18 – they can take out emergency loans from the government, according to an investigation by The Times.

“We must always behave with compassion and humanity and look at these situations on an individual basis,” he said.

“The important thing to say here is we are very good at getting these girls and women home after the terrible ordeal of a forced marriage.

“We’re known for the fact we have this huge diplomatic network around the world that is very, very good at helping Brits in distress and situations like this.”

According to the Times, four young British women were sent by their families to a “correctional school” in Somalia in 2018, where they were imprisoned and physically abused.

They were charged £740 each and reportedly left destitute by the loans – and The Times was told that two of them were now living in refuges since returning to the UK, while two had become drug addicts.

Women who have taken out loans have had their passports cancelled, and were told they cannot get a new one until the debt is repaid.

A 10% surcharge is also added if the emergency loan is not repaid within six months.

Mr Hunt, who is in Singapore at the start of a three-day visit to Asia, said he wanted “to get to the bottom” of the issue.

Forced marriage victims asked to pay rescue costs

British victims of forced marriages overseas are being asked by the Foreign Office to pay costs associated with their own rescue, it has been revealed.

An investigation by the Times found those unable to cover flights, food and shelter were made to take out a loan.

The Foreign Office said government rules meant all UK adults in difficulty aboard had to fund their repatriation.

But the heads of the Commons’ foreign and home affairs committees have criticised the practice for the women.

According to the report in the Times, British victims of forced marriage who ask for help abroad are informed about the costs.

UK officials will help them access their own funds, and contact friends, family or organisations that can assist them.

But if they cannot find the money, they are asked to sign emergency loan agreements before returning home.

The Times says a freedom of information request showed the Foreign Office helped 27 victims of forced marriage return to the UK in 2017 and 55 in 2016.

It reports the Foreign Office loaned £7,765 to at least eight victims in the past two years.

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