Andrew Mitchell, the former Secretary of State for International Development, has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the effect that counter-terror legislation is having on the bank accounts of Islamic charities operating in conflict zones.
The MP’s parliamentary assistant confirmed that Mitchell, the Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield, who was international development secretary from 2010 to 2012, had written to the International Development Committee, a House of Commons select committee, urging it to launch an inquiry into the Islamic charities that have had their bank accounts closed because of concerns that money is ending up with terrorist organisations.
The charities claim that the lack of banking provision is preventing them from carrying out their humanitarian work.
Mitchell and the former Labour MP Clare Short, who was international development secretary from 1997 to 2003, recently visited the Syria-Turkey border as a part of trip organised by the Muslim Charities Forum.
Third Sector was unable to reach Short to confirm whether she supported the call for the inquiry.
Mitchell’s calls comes after bank accounts were denied to several Muslim charities, including Islamic Relief, the Ummah Welfare Trust, the Finsbury Park Mosque, the Muslim Association of Britain and Helping Households Under Great Stress.
Mitchell called for an inquiry at a briefing organised by the Muslim Charities Forum in parliament last Wednesday. He told the event he had raised this issue with senior Downing Street officials and questioned whether government aid was being diverted from Islamic charities.
He told the meeting: "These are some of the few charities that can get into Syria and help the benighted people of that country, yet they are being held back due to misunderstandings and banking bureaucracy."
Omayma El Ella, operations manager at the Muslim Charities Forum, told Third Sector that "serious questions" needed to be addressed relating to the banking industry and government legislation.
"We would stress that this is not just an issue facing Muslim-led charities, but diaspora and local charities operating in high-risk areas, as well as the peace-building and wider international non-governmental organisation sector," she said. "The Home Office has recently set up an inter-departmental working group that will sit with UK-based charities and look into this issue, and we would ask that any inquiry is informed by this working group."
A report published by the Overseas Development Institute last year called on the government to provide clearer guidance to banks on how to interpret counter-terror laws so they could provide banking services to charities that work in conflict zones.