Charities organising aid convoys to Syria should question the motives of participants who want to stay in the country and should not allow people to join convoys at the last minute, says a regulatory alert from the Charity Commission today.
The alert says the commission "has and continues to be alert to the potential abuse of humanitarian aid efforts", and warns charities that they "may face regulatory oversight and scrutiny by the commission including a compliance visit."
Last week, it was revealed that Abdul Waheed Majeed, a British suicide bomber who carried out an attack on a prison in Aleppo earlier this month, had travelled to the country with a British-organised aid convoy last summer. The Charity Commission said it was monitoring Children in Deen, which organised the administrative aspects of the convoy.
The commission’s alert recommends charities ensure that all volunteers travel from and return to the UK together, and says "trustees ought to question the motives of those wanting to stay for longer periods of time or those looking to travel independently".
The commission says it "has seen from its own regulatory casework that some charities have poor vetting procedures or do not follow or implement those".
Trustees should not allow people signing up for a convoy at the last minute to join it, because this makes proper vetting and checks difficult to carry out, the alert says.
It says that volunteers should be given appropriate training and briefing before travelling. It advises that cash "is kept to a minimum and only carried when absolutely necessary", and that charities "consider very carefully whether a convoy is the most effective way to deliver aid". Children in Deen said last week that it was now sending all aid deliveries in shipping containers.
Of 48 open monitoring cases and statutory inquiries into charities, 10 have the word ‘Syria’ in the name of the charity – two of which are full inquiries, a spokeswoman for the regulator said.
Michelle Russell, the head of investigation and enforcement at the commission, said: "It is vital that the public continues to have confidence in the charities they are generously supporting. The commission has previously issued advice to the public looking to donate through UK charities to help those affected and for charities responding to the crisis.
"The commission has been engaging with, and will continue to engage with, a number of charities and charitable appeals that have been established for, or are responding to, the humanitarian situation in Syria to ensure that funds so generously donated by the public are properly applied and that trustees comply with the law."
Kent Police, responsible for the port of Dover, said in a statement: "Kent Police always aims to facilitate the swift movement of legitimate aid convoys through its borders with early checks and providing advice on the dangers of travelling to countries at risk by liaising with convoy organisers.
"In some instances, a number of smaller aid convoys arrive at Kent ports without prior notice but we still endeavour to process them as quickly as possible."