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'Abuse victims were sent back to war zones' in Oxfam cover-up

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 11/06/2019 Gabriella Swerling
An Oxfam sign is seen on a kiosk that was used to distribute water in Haiti © Reuters An Oxfam sign is seen on a kiosk that was used to distribute water in Haiti

Oxfam abuse victims were sent back to war zones after raising complaints against aid workers, it was claimed in an official report exposing the scale of the scandal that engulfed the charity.

The report, by the Charity Commission, accuses Oxfam of underplaying the scale of allegations made by victims in Haiti and the UK in an attempt to protect the charity’s reputation and keep donations coming in.

It found that the charity failed to respond adequately to allegations that aid workers in Haiti were sexually abusing women whom they were supposed to be helping.

Video: Oxfam: We deserve tough judgements (Sky News)

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It also found that 16 child volunteers in UK high street stores had complained of being victims of abuse. However the report found that Oxfam “tolerated poor behaviour”.

The Charity Commission, which has been investigating Oxfam since last year, concluded that the charity’s approach to the allegations was marked “by a desire to protect its reputation and donor relationships”.

One allegation in the report, published yesterday, said: “Beneficiaries who raised complaints against Oxfam GB and UN staff were removed from camps and repatriated back to conflict zones by staff who wanted to protect their colleagues.”

The report came a year after allegations emerged that Oxfam aid workers had used prostitutes in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. The claims resulted in more than 7,000 people cancelling their donations, forcing Oxfam to make £16 million of cuts to aid projects.

Oxfam held its own investigation following allegations by a whistleblower in 2011, resulting in four people being sacked and three others, including Roland van Hauwermeiren, its former director in Haiti, being allowed to resign.

© Thomson Reuters The Charity Commission report, which concluded that Oxfam put vulnerable children at risk by not investigating allegations of sexual assault by aid workers, came after an 18-month investigation and a six-month delay.

On Tuesday, the National Crime Agency confirmed it was investigating a case relating to two Haitian girls, aged 12 and 13, who claimed that they were “beaten and used” by an Oxfam “boss”.

Their emails were seen by Dame Barbara Stocking, the charity’s CEO at the time, and the charity concluded that the claims were “fake”.

However the report condemned the charity saying it did not take their allegations “seriously enough”, that it “should not have taken the risk with the safety of minors” and should have reported the allegations to police.

File photo: Minister of Foreign Affairs of Haiti, Antonio Rodrigue leaves after a press briefing about the Oxfam case in the Ministry of Planning of Haiti, on February 15, 2018 in Port-au-Prince. © Getty File photo: Minister of Foreign Affairs of Haiti, Antonio Rodrigue leaves after a press briefing about the Oxfam case in the Ministry of Planning of Haiti, on February 15, 2018 in Port-au-Prince. Regarding allegations that war refugees were “repatriated” if they raised concerns or reported staff had abused them, Stephen Twigg, Labour MP and chairman of the International Development Committee, said: “This allegation is extremely serious and merits further investigation.

There is a clear need to change the culture away from maintaining reputations of organisations. Staff need to have confidence that they will be protected and believed.”

This comes as a separate Oxfam-commissioned Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture conducted a global audit of the charity and concluded that it is blighted by “toxic working environments”, “colonial behaviour”, and sexism.

In response, Caroline Thomson, chairman of trustees at Oxfam GB, said that the charity is “deeply sorry” for its failure to prevent sexual abuse by its former staff in Haiti. “It was a terrible abuse of power, and an affront to the values that Oxfam holds dear,” she said.

She added that Oxfam has begun to implement the review’s 79 recommendations and accepted that its response to safeguarding should have been improved “further and faster” after Haiti, and added that the “very uncomfortable” findings from the inquiry will be used to “spur to greater improvement”.

Regarding the claim that victims were “repatriated”, a spokesman said more details have been requested.

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