Charity Commission joins campaign to highlight dangers of Syrian conflict

Michelle Russell, head of investigations and enforcement, has emphasised the importance of communicating the best ways of helping those affected by the civil war

Michelle Russell
Michelle Russell

The Charity Commission has helped to launch a national awareness campaign to protect young people from the dangers of travelling to Syria.

The campaign, which was launched today and is being led by Helen Ball, senior national coordinator for counter-terrorism policing in the South East Counter Terrorism Unit, comes amid concerns that Britons might be travelling to Syria to fight or commit acts of terror under the guise of working for or with a charity.

Last week, the commission’s chair, William Shawcross, said Islamist extremism was a growing problem for charities and "potentially the most deadly" faced by the commission. This month the commission also announced workshops for charities that work in or send money or aid to Syria. It has opened statutory inquiries into several charities working in the country this year.

According to Sectu, about 40 Syria-related arrests were made in the first three months of 2014, compared with approximately 25 for 2013 as a whole. Sectu has held various community conferences and distributed a leaflet throughout the south east outlining the risks of travelling to Syria.

Michelle Russell, head of investigations and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: "There is a genuine and desperate need for humanitarian assistance to help people affected by the conflict in Syria. UK charities and their partners are playing an important role in the delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria and its neighbouring countries.

"We want everyone to make informed choices about which charities to support and how to support them so that they can feel confident that their contribution really will make a difference to the humanitarian effort," she said.

Ball said police were "increasingly concerned" about the numbers of young people who have travelled or are intending to travel to Syria to join the conflict.

She said the campaign was particularly focused on making sure that women were given information to help them prevent their loved ones from getting involved. "This is not about criminalising people," she said. "It is about preventing tragedies. We want to inform those who wish to genuinely help the Syrian cause how they can do so safely and legally."

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