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200 people cancel donations to Oxfam Belgium

15:21 15/02/2018
In the face of information that the Oxfam Haiti mission at the centre of a sex scandal was led by a Belgian, the director of the local chapter says that he is ‘absolutely appalled’.

Oxfam Belgium is looking into whether it can obtain a “statement of good conduct” from police for its workers who it sends overseas. The move is in response to the ongoing allegations of sexual misconduct leveraged against the UK chapter, which is the international headquarters of the global charity.

It recently emerged that six British aid workers, led by a Belgian national working for Oxfam UK, paid for sex when stationed in Haiti in 2011. The group apparently even set up parties to which prostitutes – some possibly underage – were invited.

The Oxfam staff were in the country as part of relief efforts following the devastating earthquake that struck Port au Prince in 2010. Further revelations include reports that Oxfam, while having sacked or accepted the resignations of the workers involved in Haiti, has covered up the story for years.

One of the workers who resigned was the director of Oxfam Haiti – the Belgian Roland van Hauwermeiren. He had worked for Oxfam UK but never for Oxfam Belgium.

‘They made a big mistake’

It came to light that Van Hauwermeiren had been sacked from another charity in Liberia in 2004 for the exact same behaviour. He went on to lead delegations as an employee of Oxfam, first in Chad, where he also employed prostitutes, and then in Haiti. Van Hauwermeiren, now 68, currently lives at the Belgian coast.

And then yesterday: Juan Alberto Fuentes Knight, chair of Oxfam’s international arm, was arrested in Guatemala as part of a corruption investigation.

So the chair of Oxfam Belgium, Stefaan Declercq, took to a local talk programme last night to try to diffuse any anger directed at his chapter. “Generally, Oxfam tries to hire local people to lead relief efforts,” he said. “Oxfam UK should have hired a Haitian. They made a big mistake, and their director at the time admitted as much and resigned because of it.”

About 200 people have stopped their monthly donations to Oxfam Belgium, he revealed, but he’s heard from hundreds more who have offered their support. What happened, he said, “is completely at odds with the values and the mission of Oxfam as an organisation. I have worked with Oxfam for more than 40 years, and I am absolutely appalled. It is also scandalous to the thousands of volunteers and staff who work every single day in support of these values.”

He said that Oxfam Belgium screens its aid workers and are now examining “whether we can request a statement of good conduct for our workers who are sent on overseas missions. We need to find out if that is within our rights in terms of privacy laws.”

Written by Lisa Bradshaw