THE UK Government has been urged to end its “immoral” policy of charging British women to help rescue them from forced marriages.

Jeremy Hunt has ordered an urgent inquiry into the issue after it came to light that victims have either had to pay for plane tickets, basic food and shelter themselves or, if they were over 18, take out emergency loans from Whitehall.

The Foreign Secretary, who is in Singapore at the start of a three-day visit to Asia, made clear that he wanted "to get to the bottom" of the issue.

"I have asked officials to give me some proper advice on the whole issue on the basis of seeing this story.

"Any interventions that I have had on these consular matters I have always stressed to embassies and posts abroad that they need to use discretion.

"Of course, we should always behave with compassion and humanity in every situation," he added.

However, there was a political backlash with one MP likening the latest claims to the Windrush scandal in showing how differently Britons from minorities were treated to their white counterparts.

Labour’s Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said she was "completely appalled" at the situation.

She tweeted: "Forced marriage is slavery. For Govt to make victims pay for their freedom is immoral. Ministers need to put this right fast."

Her colleague David Lammy branded the policy "unconscionable", adding: "Just like the Windrush scandal yet more evidence of how differently this government is prepared to treat black or brown British citizens.

"A white woman who had been kidnapped, sold into slavery and raped would never have been asked to pay for her freedom," declared the Tottenham MP.

Alison Thewlis, the SNP MP for Glasgow Central, described the claims as “jaw-dropping” as they involved vulnerable young women in unimaginable situations faced with a cruel system of bureaucracy at their time of need.

“It flies in the face of the Prime Minister’s own commitments to tackle violence against women,” she declared.

Ms Thewlis called on UK ministers to take urgent action to stop the policy and to investigate why it was introduced at all.

“And importantly, the women who have faced these charges should have every penny repaid. We must also urgently know whether any women have been left without help if they refused or were unable to sign up for these UK Government loans.”

She added: “The UK Government should never put a price tag on vulnerable women’s freedom nor add to their suffering by saddling them with crippling debt.”

Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, which monitors the work of the Foreign Office, said the report in The Times was "astonishing".

"[The committee] will ask questions about this decision to charge forced marriage victims to be rescued," he tweeted.

The Kent MP said the Foreign Office was rightly proud of the work its forced marriages unit[FMU] did.

But he added: “We shouldn't be charging the most vulnerable for their own protection or dissuading them from asking for it."

The Foreign Office, which jointly runs the unit with the Home Office, said it had an obligation to recover money spent on repatriating victims when public money was involved such as the cost of a flight back to the UK.

It is understood the women are not charged for staff costs and the department does not profit from the repatriations.

In 2017, it helped 27 victims of forced marriage return to the UK and 55 the year before, according to figures acquired under freedom of information laws.

In the past two years the Foreign Office has lent £7,765 to at least eight forced marriage victims who could not pay for their repatriation.

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

Under Foreign Office terms and conditions a surcharge of 10 per cent is added if an emergency loan is not repaid within six months.

In 2018 four young British women sent by their families to a "correctional school" in Somalia, where they were imprisoned and physically abused, were charged £740 each.

Left destitute by the loans, two are living in refuges and two have become drug addicts since returning to the UK.