Charities working in Ukraine


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The war in Ukraine has shocked the world and could lead to one of Europe's worst humanitarian crisis with as many as seven million refugees potentially leaving Ukraine and residents still living in the cities of Mariupol and Kherson being cut off from supplies.

This has led to a huge outpouring of public support in this country. Understandably, existing charities are wanting to target their work in Ukraine, and people are wanting to setup new charities to provide additional support.

The Charity Commission has published new guidance for charities and trustees in relation to the Ukraine humanitarian crisis. The message is simple, the Charity Commission recognises that people want to take urgent action to help and will prioritise applications from charities wishing to do so. Charities do though need to still act within the law and must consider the broader impact of their activities whether they are the best placed to provide those activities.

It is a sad fact of life that where there is an area of extreme need that there will be some people wishing to exploit support that is provided. The areas in most need of humanitarian aid inevitably end up being the most complex areas to support and the areas where there is the highest risk that funds may not actually reach their intended destination.

There have been a number of inquiries by the Charity Commission into humanitarian charities which highlight the potential issues. Human Aid UK was a high-profile investigation into a charity aimed at providing humanitarian relief in Syria. It utilised cash couriers and transferred hundreds of thousands of pounds to an organisation based in Turkey to provide humanitarian relief. However, it received little in the way of documentation evidencing expenditure. The authorities also assessed that the Turkish organisation the charity had been transferring funds to was in fact being used to provide support to Al-Qaeda aligned individuals in Syria. This clearly highlights the risk that even a well-intentioned organisation can actually end up working against their own objectives by trying to provide funds into a complex area with extreme need which they do not have sufficient knowledge of.

It is against this backdrop that the Charity Commission has issued its guidance. Quite rightly it asks charities and individuals who want to setup new charities to:

  • Consider whether there are other charities that may already be established and better placed to respond that you could support;
  • Think very carefully about whether organising or participating in a convoy is the most effective way to deliver aid or whether buying goods closer to the point of need is preferable;
  • Ensure you comply with relevant rules both domestically and internationally when buying and moving medicines;
  • Carry out appropriate and proper due diligence on any partners you may work with; and
  • Be familiar with guidance on safeguarding, risks of working internationally and specific country guidance issued by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Of course, none of this is to say that charities will not play an important role in providing humanitarian and other aid to Ukrainians. They must though be prudent to ensure that they actually deliver the positive impact they set out to.

Click here to read the Charity Commission guidance.

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