Charities react with dismay as UK government plans to buy arms with aid budget

Aid agencies have expressed grave concern over the news that the Prime Minister David Cameron has decided to divert money from the aid budget to buy weapons and fund military training.

A CAFOD spokesperson said: "CAFOD believes the fundamental principle behind any spend of the aid budget is that it is focused on how best to reduce poverty for the poorest and most disadvantaged. The money committed to aid must not be viewed by politicians as something that can be switched to serve other political purposes.

"CAFOD recognises the basic need of people around the world to live in peace, free from fear, and to be able to rebuild their lives in post conflict situations. Security, stability, good governance and access to justice are at the heart of this. We believe that considerations of how to ensure sustainable peace must be driven by the communities who are themselves affected by conflict and violence.

"The aid budget must be directed towards activities which have made, and will continue to make, a huge difference to the lives of the poorest and most disadvantaged. The historic achievement of reaching the target of 0.7% must not be tarnished by talk of that money being diverted to bolster the defence budget. It is essential that the government sticks to the internationally-agreed definitions of what counts as overseas development assistance and the direction that is given by the International Development Act of 2002.

"Any approach to supporting stability and security using aid money must be driven by development and poverty reduction not by national interests or politics and abide by the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence."

Oxfam’s head of policy, Max Lawson, said the public expected cash earmarked for international development to be spent on “hospitals and not helicopter gunships” and “schools not soldiers”. He said: “We can’t see any penny diverted into the military.”

Sorcha O’Callaghan, head of humanitarian policy at the British Red Cross, said: “Agencies working in conflict need to be able to distance themselves from military objectives in order to be seen to be neutral.

“Blurring the lines between aid and military objectives will not only reduce the resources available to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, it also risks the access and safety of aid workers.”

Melanie Ward, spokeswoman for ActionAid, said: “Military objectives and defence needs must have no bearing on how aid is spent.”

Justin Byworth, chief executive of World Vision UK, said: “The British Government leads the way on good aid spending – and diverting more money to peacekeeping operations could put that in jeopardy.”

The new approach means aid cash could be used to pay for troop training in Mali, demobilisation in Afghanistan and providing assistance to rebel fighters in Syria.

A CAFOD volunteer said: "If this goes ahead, it will put some aid workers' lives at risk and endanger many projects.  It may also discourage people from donating to charities like ours."

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