Forced Marriage, International Travel, and Quarantine.
As Covid-19 restrictions are eased in England, a new set of travel restrictions have come into place, including the need to quarantine in a government-approved hotel on arrival in the UK from a “red-list” country. Currently, many countries which regularly feature as “focus countries” for the forced marriage unit are on the “red list“. Quarantine costs £1,750. We are very concerned that the cost of quarantine may be a serious barrier for people being forced to marry abroad, making it harder – perhaps impossible – for them to return safely to the UK. We also think the current travel restrictions raise a number of other concerns relating to the safety of victims and survivors of forced marriage including around the need for specific tests before re-entering the UK and access to specialist services and safe accomodation on their return.
These concerns have been echoed by Karma Nirvana, in an open letter signed by twenty-two other leading campaigners and researchers on this issue. This was picked up by The Independent, and the Victims Commissioner, who said forced marriage victims “face many barriers”, and “hotel quarantine should not be one”. So far, neither the Home Office nor the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office have responded.
Although cases referred to the forced marriage unit almost halved in 2020, they still dealt with 753 cases in 2020, despite travel restrictions (and understandable caution about travelling internationally, even when it was permitted). 14 people needed assistance with repatriation from the forced marriage unit in 2020. These numbers are, of course, a lot smaller than the total number of cases, for instance, of Covid-19 experienced in the UK last year, but they are still higher than they should be, as that should be zero. Forced marriage is against the law in the UK and in many other countries, and recognised internationally as a human rights abuse.
We will continue to monitor the response from the government, and changes to travel restrictions.