Congressional Effort to Exclude IRW from USG Funding Defeated

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Date: 
September 13, 2017

A Congressional budget amendment that would have de-funded a large UK-based humanitarian aid organization was successfully fought back earlier this week.

The amendment, which was proposed by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) as part of the Department of State’s foreign operations appropriations, would have cut all US government funding to Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW). A grassroots effort by Islamic Relief USA, InterAction, Charity & Security Network and other organizations sent emails to various Congressional staff members working on the appropriations bill. As the bill went to a vote Monday evening, the amendment was not offered and will not be a part of this funding measure. 

A "Dear Colleague" letter drafted by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) in an effort to oppose the amendment, gathered more than 50 signatures from nonprofit organizations in less than 24 hours, according to Ellison's office. The letter urged members of the U.S. House of Representatives to vote against the amendment, asserting that IRW was singled out for its religious affiliation. 

A number of Islamophobic blogs claim that IRW has ties to terrorists. However, the organization has been audited more than 500 times, none of which found any evidence to support these allegations.  The group categorically denies any terrorist links, adding that the organization has lost five members of its staff to acts of violence in Syria, Pakistan, Somalia and Kenya. “This experience has reinforced IRW’s passionate commitment to assisting the victims of conflict as much as it can, and to ensuring that aid reaches those in genuine need and does not fall into the wrong hands.”

The Ellison letter explains that when IRW was accused of providing support to terrorists, it shut down its operations in the West Bank and commissioned an independent audit. In reviewing the audit, the UK Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) stated, "We are satisfied that Islamic Relief has robust systems in place to ensure aid money is properly accounted for and spent appropriately. The DEC is not aware of any evidence that Islamic Relief has used aid funds inappropriately in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories."

IRW has been awarded $704,662 in US government funding to date - $270,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for a project in Kenya, and $434,662 from USAID for three projects in Kenya ($100,000), Ethiopia ($210,000) and the Central African Republic ($124.662). All grants were awarded in 2015, for programs to be implemented between 2015 and 2018.

IRW enjoys UN consultative status, participates in the UK Disasters Emergency Committee, and partners with governments around the world. Beyond the United States, funders include the European Community Humanitarian Office, the Canadian government, the Swedish government, the Swiss government, the British government, the World Food Programme, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UNICEF and UN Women. "It’s inconceivable that IRW could receive such broad support if it funded or had links to terrorism," the Ellison letter states. 

“This attempt to single out and target an effective and widely respected humanitarian group by the back door, without due process or right of reply, is an assault on all civil society organizations that should be vehemently opposed and rejected,” IRW said in a statement. InterAction, a coalition of 190 nonprofits working abroad, noted that, to the best of its knowledge, there is no precedent for singling out individual nonprofit organizations for legislative exclusion from participation in programming with US foreign assistance funds when there is no legal basis for the exclusion.