NGO’s are not above the law


NONGOVERNMENTAL Organizations, (NGOs) including United Nations humanitarian bodies seek to bring food, shelter and medical aid to the suffering.

The camps they establish to support victims of war and natural disaster may quickly become unpleasantly overcrowded but at least they provide a place of safety where people can be housed, fed and given medical care.

Almost invariably this aid is provided by NGOs who use funding from governments around the world as well as their own supporters in the wealthy First World. This means, that for example in Jordan or Bangladesh, the local health services and economies are not overwhelmed by the sudden spike in population.

Most of these international NGOs, such as Oxfam and Médecins sans Frontières are charities. The work they do looking after people who have very often lost everything, is invaluable. But increasingly politics have crept into their agenda. NGOs have been operating rescue ships in the Mediterranean picking up migrants from flimsy craft launched from Libya or Turkey and carrying them to an EU port. This has brought them into conflict with European governments, most significantly that of Italy, which are seeking to resist further uncontrolled mass migration.

Now while these anti-migrant policies are informed by the despicable antics of far-right politicians peddling Islamophobic and racists platforms, they do have a rationale. Among the would-be asylum-seekers are many from sub-Saharan Africa who are not actually fleeing persecution at all.

As Germany’s outstandingly humane chancellor Angela Merkel has discovered, the door that she opened for Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan victims with genuine grounds for political asylum has been pushed open far wider by people from other countries, including Pakistan, where there is no reason for flight, other than lack of opportunity.

Now Europe, with its generally declining birth rates needs new people. But it understandably has to be able to cope with the flows of migrants. There is a legitimate fear that if the process of absorption for new arrivals breaks down, it will play to the bigotry of neo-Nazi politicians. What has always been needed is an orderly process for the acceptance of migrants.

Now the NGOs that have been busying themselves helping migrants have begun to run foul of the law. In Greece, Italy and Spain some of their workers have been arrested and charged with law breaking. They protest that they are only saving lives. And there can be no doubt that, with one or two deplorable exceptions that have proved to be money making rackets working hand-in-glove with people smugglers, those helping migrants have the highest and most honorable motives.

Unfortunately, there is a fine line between what they are doing and contravening local laws and regulations. Just because these NGOs believe that they are working to a high morale purpose does not make what they are doing legally right.

It is time for those running these charities to consider the risks they are running. It is not simply that they could see their people before the courts; their reputations are in jeopardy. Yes they do very necessary work, but by flouting national laws they are endangering not only their future operations but the future well-being of those they were set up to succor. All NGOs must work within in the law.