Letter to PM warns that banks could create ‘aid vacuums’
Islamic Relief and 11 other leading aid agencies have warned that ambiguities around UK counter-terrorism legislation are undermining aid efforts in Syria and putting lives at risk, by encouraging banks to delay or block the flow of funds to conflict zones.
In a letter to the Prime Minister highlighted in media reports by Al Arabiya and the Daily Mail, the charities urge the Government to act to clarify the regulations, hold the banks to account and avoid the creation of ‘aid vacuums’ – places where those most in need of support find that it is least available because of bank restrictions.
“More lives will be lost in this brutal conflict,” the letter says, “if international and local humanitarian organisations are unable to deliver funds to their offices in the region and their Syrian partners.”
The letter was signed by the bosses of Islamic Relief, Christian Aid, Syria Relief, Responding to Conflict, Mercy Corps, Care International UK, CAFOD, Sawa Foundation UK, the Muslim Charities Forum, Muslim Aid, Hand in Hand for Syria and Bond, a consortium of more than 400 charities.
The full text of the letter says:
Dear Prime Minister
This week marked the fifth anniversary of the Syrian conflict, which has so far claimed the lives of over 250,000 people and led to the displacement of over 11 million. The UK Government has played a crucial role in the humanitarian response, and promised a further £2.3 billion at last month’s pledging conference in London.
Despite such significant commitments, we are concerned that ambiguities around UK counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering legislation are undermining the aid effort by encouraging some banks to adopt a risk-averse approach. This is slowing down or blocking the flow of funds to Syria and neighbouring countries, hindering efforts to help the people most affected by armed violence.
More lives will be lost in this brutal conflict if international and local humanitarian organisations are unable to deliver funds to their offices in the region and their Syrian partners. Bank restrictions may end up creating ‘aid vacuums’ in conflict zones – places where those most in need of support find that it is least available.
A balance needs to be struck that encourages due diligence by banks without denying support to legitimate charities doing vital work. In recent years many aid agencies have strengthened financial processes and management systems to ensure that funds and aid reach their intended recipients, in line with Charity Commission guidelines. Yet many continue to see bank accounts closed or payments blocked when operating in conflict zones.
We want to see the UK Government build on its laudable humanitarian leadership by playing a leading role in tackling these challenges, bringing banks, aid agencies and the British Bankers’ Association together to find a way forward. Regulators should proactively clarify the regulations and ensure that banks act in a proportionate manner. Our politicians must act to ensure that life-saving funds can continue to reach those most in need.