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UK charity demands probe after Gaza-bound aid money seized

Muslim Aid workers in Gaza 7 May 2020 [Twitter]
Muslim Aid workers in Gaza 7 May 2020 [Muslim Aid UK/Twitter]

British based charity Human Aid, has written to the UK’s police watchdog demanding an investigation into allegations of police harassment of Gaza-bound aid workers and the seizure of cash donations last year, Middle East Eye (MEE) reported.

The aid charity filed a complaint with the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) on Monday, ten months after the stop at Heathrow Airport on 9 July 2019.

The stop, under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which allows police to detain and question travellers at border crossings, including airports, to determine whether they are involved in terrorism, resulted in the confiscation of approximately £15,000 ($18,300) in cash.

The money has since been returned in full, sparking the charity to write a letter to Cressida Dick, the head of the Metropolitan Police, to demand an apology for the erroneous seizure, MEE reported.

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The organisation reported the seizure as a serious incident and reportedly engaged lawyers to try and get the money back. A statement from charity last year termed the stop “heavy-handed” and claimed the use of force was “was symptomatic of the disproportionate harassment Muslim charities face”.

MEE quoted Choudhury as saying:

Aid workers were treated like criminals and were left traumatised from the experience. They were searched, questioned, fingerprints and DNA taken and detained for several hours.

“Those doing public service and benefitting the less fortunate here and abroad, often at great personal risk, should be commended and supported – not to be afforded less respect than what criminals receive in Britain,” Choudhury added.

However, according to a report by Civil Society, the charity was warned against transporting large quantities of cash the day before Gaza-bound aid workers were stopped. The Charity Commission reportedly visited Human Aid’s officers on 8 July and discussed procedures for carrying cash.

In a statement, Choudhury cited operations in war zones as the reason large cash sums were necessary but stated, “there are perfectly lawful provisions for the management of such processes. To assist charities in doing so, the Commission has robust procedures which we follow closely”.

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Human Aid has further accused the government of a “pattern of harassment”, the East London Advertiser reported last year. The move comes after the Charity Commission launched a second statutory inquiry into the organisation’s affairs in five years.

The first inquiry, launched in 2014 and not concluded until 2017, found “there was no evidence of misapplication of charity funds”, but called for better documentation of how funds were used.

According to the MEE report, despite calls for the Charity Commission to drop the investigation after the funds were returned to Human Aid, the inquiry remains “open and ongoing”.

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