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How scandal-hit Oxfam is affecting the good work of agencies like UNRWA

Emad Eryan

Published: Updated:

UNRWA is, and has been, exposed to unjust campaigns both presently and in the past, while it is in dire need of all possible international and regional support for the great humanitarian work it is providing to Palestinian children, particularly in health and education fields.

Recently, UK-based Oxfam’s country director in Haiti admitted to using prostitutes at his residence during a relief mission before resigning in 2011, according to an internal investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct released by the charity in February.

The damaging effect has no doubt now affected other non-governmental agencies (NGOs), among them UNRWA, and experts question how far this impact will last on the good work being done by clean agencies.

So, is it possible to accuse all international humanitarian organizations of indulging in immoral acts on a large scale in the wake of recent scandal that has struck Oxfam ?

Is it possible to point figures at all these institutions or organizations because of just a few incidents, abuses and attacks committed by some of these organizations? Can we not consider these as isolated incidents and not the norm?

Reviving old doubts

Although these are isolated instances, they remain quite serious offences and are quite disconcerting. They raise doubts about the work of NGOs and international charities, regardless of the humanitarian efforts they provide to the world’s poor and helpless. Moreover, such scandals also revive some of the past charges leveled against these organizations.

International nongovernment organizations have often been accused of being a front for intelligence services and for carrying out hidden and illegal tasks for invisible forces. Western authorities in general, particularly America, seem defensive about the work and penetration of these organizations in societies of developing countries, and are accused of carrying out motivated, hideous agendas.

Many developing countries even face sanctions because they oppose the violations committed by these organizations. They demand that the work and funding of these organizations should come under local supervision.

In the past, these organizations have faced many accusations of having breached their mandate and of being involved in shameful practices, incompatible with their stated objectives. Even international peacekeepers have been found involved in such practices over the decades, such as in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

NGOs have often been accused of being a front for intelligence services and for carrying out hidden and illegal tasks for invisible forces

Emad Eryan

Today, Oxfam’s ‘immoral’ scandal — which has also tainted the organization Doctors without Borders — show how employees of these organizations take advantage of their authority, particularly on people who are in desperate need of humanitarian aid in crisis-afflicted areas.

According to some of the parties that oppose such NGOs, the concept of helping people in need in crisis-hit areas remains vague because those who provide assistance have power, and some of the people who provide help take advantage of their power.

International reports have confirmed that the staff of Oxfam did not hold the ‘lewd parties’ after the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, but such parties may have been held during relief operations in Chad in 2006.

UNRWA targeted

Certainly, this is not the first “immoral” expose to have shaken the international aid community. It has been found that the staff of some relief organizations has been indulging in such crimes against the local citizenry for a long time. Thus, Doctors without Borders disclosed 24 cases of sex abuse or blackmail in 2017, while the ICRC acknowledged three cases of abuse during relief operations in Congo.

Aid providers are reported to have misbehaved during the Yugoslav war in the 1990s. In order to assist abused women, German women’s rights organization, Medica Mondiale supported traumatized women in Bosnia during the conflict in Balkans. The NGOs in Cologne continue to help girls and women in war zones and crises till date.

If one of the managers of these organizations finds it difficult to enforce checks on all their employees or their behavior, then it would be an even more serious issue. Again, many of these organizations receive aid or support from their governments, which allows security institutions to have a role in managing such organizations, even from behind the scenes, which are greater crimes.

In this regard, we can talk about the brutal campaign against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) led by the US, Israel and other Western countries. What is interesting here is that UNRWA is exposed to this unjust campaign, while it is in dire need of all possible international and regional support, for the great humanitarian work it is providing to Palestinian children, particularly in health and education fields.

There is no doubt that the American-Israeli attitude towards UNRWA is in itself a major international scandal that requires condemnation, even as embarrassing scandals and abuses committed by famous Western relief organizations continue without any word of condemnation.

This article is also available in Arabic.
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Emad Eryan is an Egyptian author and political analyst who writes for Dubai-based Al-Bayan newspaper.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.