by Christopher McKeon, PA             

6th April 2022

Humanitarian charities fear a wider crisis as the conflict in Ukraine continues and want more consultation with smaller NGOs from the Government.

Representatives of small charities sending aid to Ukraine told the PA news agency that failing to distribute Ukrainian refugees throughout Europe could precipitate a new crisis, while the conflict could also exacerbate the situation in Syria.

Roger Wilson, of Hope and Aid Direct, said: “At some point in time, unless Europe gets a bit better at moving these people around Europe and resettlement projects, those drawbridges are going to get pulled up.”

More than 2.5 million Ukrainians have fled to Poland, according to the UN, while the combined total of Ukrainian refugees and internally displaced people is more than 10 million.

Mr Wilson, whose charity organises logistics for aid deliveries and has worked in the Balkans, Kosovo and Greece, said: “Europe can take 10 million people, but Poland can’t.”

For the moment, however, Poland appears to be coping.

Adam Zeidan, global advocacy manager at Manchester-based Human Appeal, said the Polish government had things at the border well organised, while the real need was in Ukraine itself.

The charity has so far provided temporary shelters within Ukraine for 2,700 refugees and on Wednesday announced plans to deliver £1.5 million worth of medical supplies to the country in partnership with an American NGO.

But this brings its own problems, especially given the lack of humanitarian corridors.

Mr Zeidan said: “There’s total confusion on the ground there, which is making it more difficult for foreign entities and individuals to help.

“There doesn’t seem to be any rules of engagement, there’s an ‘anything goes’ atmosphere.”

The Ukraine crisis has also raised concerns for Mr Zeidan about humanitarian corridors in Syria, where his charity has been operating for years.

The UN mandate for the last remaining corridor into north-west Syria is up for renewal in July, and Mr Zeidan fears that Russia could veto its renewal as a reprisal for attempts by the international community to isolate Moscow.

That could lead to a new humanitarian crisis in a country where the World Food Programme estimates 60% of the population suffers from food insecurity.

Regarding the UK’s aid and development policy more generally, both Mr Wilson and Mr Zeidan expressed concern about the Government’s current direction.

Mr Zeidan said the UK’s own standing in the world had been damaged by recent cuts in aid spending, saying: “To pull back or scale back, we see that as very unfortunate and counter-productive.”

Mr Wilson agreed, saying he was concerned that decisions on aid spending were “political” rather than based on what was best for aid beneficiaries.

He said: “They always feel like political decisions made based on winning votes and the decisions that are made at the moment and for the past few years haven’t had a very positive impact on NGOs.

The end result is that the people on the ground are getting a worse deal.”

He added that he was frustrated by a lack of consultation with small- and medium-sized NGOs, saying he believed only large charities such as the Red Cross were able to get a hearing, even if he was sceptical about how much influence those charities were able to wield.

His comments echo those made at a recent meeting of the House of Commons International Development Committee, where representatives of major charities Care International and Plan International told MPs there had been no consultation on aid cuts and “very little” on the forthcoming international development strategy.

Further criticism of UK aid policy therefore seems likely, given the clear feelings of frustration among representatives of the sector.