Breadcrumbs

Disaster relief charity chairman banned from entering Maldives

Third Sector, 18 May 2005

The head of a British charity delivering aid to the Maldives has been barred from entering the country just before he was to attend talks on tsunami aid distribution.

Maldives Aid chairman David Hardingham has been blacklisted by the Maldivian government, which has taken charge of distributing aid given by the Salisbury charity and its sister organisation, human rights group Friends of Maldives.

More than 100 tonnes of aid has been distributed by the charity but it still has about £100,000 in cash to be sent. However, Hardingham said all future aid would be withheld until the government discusses distribution.

"To let the government distribute it would be a disaster," said Hardingham.

"The aid will be frittered down through friends and family of the government and it is they who will benefit, not the people who need it. It is a slap in the face for all the people who work so hard to get aid to the Maldives."

The Maldivian government said Hardingham was being investigated for suspected involvement in an Islamic fundamentalist plot to smuggle arms. It also accused him of being a Christian missionary.

Hardingham dismissed the claims as "absolute rubbish". "They are trying to shut us down because we are bringing to light the awful human rights situations that exist there," he said. "FOM has no affiliation with any Christian or religious organisations. We are sensitive to what aid we send and double-check everything."

Friends of Maldives was set up to protect human rights and freedom of expression, and to encourage good governance in the country. It applied for charitable status to distribute the cash donations it received following the tsunami, but was denied because, according to the Charity Commission, "its objects were not charitable".

Hardingham registered Maldives Aid as a charity on 23 March. Then, on 1 April, a separate charity, Friends of Maldives, was registered by Toni Delaroque, founder of UK travel agency Maldive Travel. A trustee is the wife of Maldives deputy high commissioner Adam Hussan.

"I believe this Friends of Maldives was established at the instigation of the Maldivian High Commission in Britain," said Hardingham. "In my opinion, it has been set up to undermine our work. It is trading on the name we have worked so hard to establish. I consider this kind of underhand dealing by the Maldivian government highly unethical."

Delaroque and the Maldivian High Commission declined to comment.

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