Aid groups are too focused on their own interests, says critic

The chairman of a Dutch refugee foundation has launched a strong attack on aid organisations for focusing on ‘visible’ help such as distributing medicines and setting up schools.

Former GroenLinks leader Femke Halsema will make the comments in a speech in The Hague later on Thursday to mark World Refugee Day. Some of her comments have already been published in the Volkskrant newspaper.

Halsema, chairman of Stichting Vluchteling, has just returned from a tour of refugee camps in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.


Halsema says there is mounting suspicion of aid groups. This, in turn, has led them to justify themselves to donors by focusing on work which is ‘easy to explain or photograph’ such as ‘distributing physical things, medical aid and education’.

This in itself is not a problem, but it becomes one if less ‘attractive’ aid is not given. For example, in Syria there is no help for adults who are living with friends or in half-finished storage units, Halsema says.

Self interest

Halsema has also called for the establishment of an independent umbrella group which would take charge of humanitarian aid during emergencies.

Currently, there is little coordination between groups after money has been raised during an appeal, she says. ‘This is the only way to combat the self-interest of humanitarian organisations and ensure an open discussion about the effectiveness of aid,’ she said. Halsema hopes her criticism will lead to an ‘open discussion’ within the aid sector.

Both the Red Cross and current umbrella group SHO dismiss Halsema’s comments. ‘It is a slap in the face for all the organisations who work around the clock to provide help,’ René Grotenhuis of SHO told the Volkskrant.

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