Counter-terror laws hampering Islamic charities’ work – former ministers

© Amer Almohibany
Former cabinet ministers have urged the government to set up an inquiry into the way UK counter-terror laws are affecting the humanitarian work of Islamic charities, many of which operate in Syria.

Two former international development secretaries have discussed the issue with parliamentary officials and have written to the Commons International Development Select Committee to call for an inquiry into complaints that Islamic charities are being treated unfairly. 

Clare Short, who was international development secretary from 1997 to 2003, and Andrew Mitchell, who served in the same job from 2010 to 2012, have responded to concerns that Muslim charities are being discriminated against by banks or members of the authorities who worry funding could make its way to extremist organizations.

Almost one-fifth of government development aid goes to charities, and Islamic charities are some of the few British aid organizations that can operate in Syria.

Short wrote that the issue needed examining.

“This is an issue that needs clarifying and sorting out. It has been around as a problem for some time, but it has been getting worse and worse. We have got this enormous capacity in the UK of these Muslim humanitarian charities, yet they are struggling with one hand behind their back. We need a proper scrutiny and examination bringing all this out. It is preventing efficiency.”

Mitchell said: “These are some of the few charities that can get into Syria and help the benighted people of that country, yet they are being held back due to misunderstandings and banking bureaucracy.”

Commons International Development Committee chair Stephen Twigg said he would examine the request“very sympathetically.”

One charity which has complained of discrimination is Islamic Relief, one of the largest Muslim charities, who say their work is being hampered. The charity is funded by the Department for International Development, yet has had one of its bank accounts closed by HSBC.

Other charities have reported the closure of bank accounts, Pay Pal accounts and the blocking of financial transactions.

The government set up a working party to examine any issues after the complaints were made.

Short and Mitchell also travelled to Turkey to see some of the charity work by the Muslim Charities Forum, an umbrella organization for nine charities, being done to get aid into Syria. They returned with praise for the organization and its work.

Omayma El Ella, the operations manager of the Muslim Charities Forum, explained that there was no one to hold to account for the problem.

“No one is accountable for what is going on right now. Every time we speak to the government about this, they say it is a private sector issue and they cannot get involved. That is not good enough anymore. We are told no one will be prosecuted for ‘benign engagement’, but what is ‘benign engagement’? That has not been clarified.”