Refugee charities accuse lottery of blocking donations

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The Independent Online

Refugee charities working to help provide front-line support, education and assistance have spoken out against Britain's major grant providers for squeezing their resources following the "demonisation of refugees".

A group of 20 charities helping asylum-seekers and refugees are campaigning for better funding from grant-awarding bodies. The Big Lottery Fund has been accused of "conservatism and a risk-averse culture" following the furore over its funding of an anti-deportation campaign.

Jabbar Hasan, director of the Iraqi Association, is leading the campaign to get more funding for community-based charities doing vital work with refugees in the UK. "Nowadays most refugee community groups struggle to survive," he said. "We are not household names, and can't afford to make glossy bids for funding, or invest thousands in fundraising budgets, and our cause is unpopular."

Mr Hasan added: "It seems that grant-makers such as the Big Lottery Fund are no longer interested in us. Charity grant-makers must look again at the fairness of this policy and balance their decision-making process. Otherwise, they must be honest with marginalised groups and admit openly that they are no longer interested in, or open to business for, refugee community organisations."

Maurice Wren, director of Asylum Aid, said the problem was a climate of conservatism among grant providers. "It's harder for [community refugee charities] to get the kind of funds they used to get five years ago. Big institutional funds, like the Big Lottery Fund are going to be mindful of the demonisation of refugees in recent years, which leads to conservatism and a risk-averse culture."

Mr Wren said this attitude was partly a result of the upheaval caused by funding being given to anti-deportation campaigners. "It would be interesting to look at what proportion of community grants that were going to asylum agencies in 2002 before the Community Fund (now the Big Lottery Fund) came under pressure for giving money to the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns", he said.

"They got their fingers really burnt and as a result, the Big Lottery Fund has been nowhere near as brave. There is a need for funders to set aside money to support community-based agencies, because if they cease to function nobody else will pick up the slack."

A spokesperson for the Big Lottery Fund said: "BIG is committed to helping those in greatest need and does not discriminate against any group applying for funding – all applications are assessed equally."

Omolade Oshunremi, director of the Lewisham Refugee Network, said its application for £460,000 of Big Lottery funding to build a training and education centre for refugees in the area, was rejected. She said she felt the charity was being ignored because it dealt with refugees.

"The letter from the Big Lottery said our application was refused because there would not be enough beneficiaries of the project," Ms Oshunremi said. "They also said they would take a 'tighter focus' on charities in the future which discouraged us from applying again".

Eiri Ohtani, Asylum Support Appeals Project (Asap) co-ordinator, said: "The small grassroots organisations are acting for the most disadvantaged individuals, such as destitute asylum seekers. If the funding for these organisations were to stop, who will be left to fight the corner for them?"