Oxfam condemns Tory's plan for military link to aid

Michael Savage
Monday 18 October 2010 00:00 BST

A plan to focus more Government aid on failed states which threaten Britain's security will put even more humanitarian workers at risk, the head of one of Britain's biggest charities has warned.

Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, has pledged to increase aid spending by 40 per cent in Afghanistan in his drive to make humanitarian work contribute more to Britain's national interest.

But Barbara Stocking, the head of Oxfam UK, said security risks were already becoming "worse and worse" for aid groups in Afghanistan, where the British aid worker Linda Norgrove was kidnapped and killed earlier this month. She said Oxfam already had to run projects in the most dangerous areas using local volunteers, rather than their own staff.

"On the ground, it's an enormous problem actually," she said. "It's not been widely reported because we don't want to make a big deal of it, but we had three workers killed in Afghanistan ourselves about a month ago – two Afghan staff and one Afghan community volunteer in Badakhshan [in North East Afghanistan].

"That's the kind of thing that is going on and it is getting worse. The way we're going to have to go about this is, can you work out how to handle the work you're doing remotely, using local workers and local partners?"

She warned that the increased integration between aid, the military and the Foreign Office – currently being carried out through the Government's new National Security Council – would cause more problems for workers.

"There's one thing about having a coherent policy in Whitehall, which we would absolutely agree with," she said. "Delivering it on the ground in a way that looks like it really is the British Government's drive really does put people like us at risk.

"We have to be there acting as completely impartial on the ground."

Aid agencies refuse to travel in military convoys even in the most dangerous regions, Dame Barbara said, putting workers in danger. "We call it the policy of acceptance," she said. "The people themselves have got to want us to be there because we can't operate otherwise. We can't be seen to be doing anything with the military. In the end, the only safe way to operate is by the people wanting us to be there."

The Department for International Development (Dfid) is likely to be under increased pressure to safeguard aid spending on areas regarded as Britain's security priorities during the spending review. Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the former head of the armed forces, was recently invited by Mr Mitchell to address Dfid staff on the links between security and development.

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