Syrian widows forced to give naked pictures to aid worker
Aid given by British donors has been handed out in Syria by a man known to elicit sexual favours from poor widows.
Clothes donated to SKT Welfare, a UK-registered charity based in Dewsbury, were unloaded from a truck in Syria and given to aid recipients by a local NGO worker who regularly traded humanitarian aid for sexual favours.
In a series of messages seen by The Sunday Times, Ayman al-Shaar, a Syrian aid worker based in the western Aleppo countryside, begged women to send him naked pictures in return for food baskets. Some agreed after negotiating the amount of aid. Others refused, and the conversation was quickly cut off — leaving the women, mostly widows, without humanitarian assistance.
There is no suggestion that SKT Welfare was aware of Shaar’s activities and there is no evidence that any SKT aid was used by Shaar to obtain sexual favours. The charity said it has “absolutely no relationship with Mr al-Shaar or al-Ahbab [Shaar’s organisation] whatsoever and never has had”.
In a message to The Sunday Times, Shaar denied that he had requested sexual favours in return for aid and said one of the women in the messages was his fiancée.
Photos published online last December by al-Ahbab show the charity worker handing out aid bearing the former’s logo. Photos published by SKT show him appearing to take part in aid distribution. Figures published by the Charity Commission show that SKT in 2016 had an income of £4.4m.
Other photos appear to show Shaar working in partnership with Qatar Red Crescent. The organisation did not respond to requests for comment.
Women who have lost their husbands in the seven-year civil war are, say locals, “easy prey” for unscrupulous aid workers, who exploit their vulnerability and desperation to provide for their children. According to a UN report, in some areas “sex for aid” was assumed to be so widespread that women who received assistance were stigmatised by their communities.
SKT Welfare said it had its own distribution network in Syria and did not engage other local agencies to work on its behalf. “All of our employees are extensively trained, including on our detailed policy on sexual exploitation and abuse prevention.” It said it did not know of al-Ahbab or the photograph until last week.
The charity said: “An individual working for al-Ahbab opportunistically taking a photograph beside one of our aid trucks for its own publicity purposes does not evidence a relationship between us or even that al-Ahbab was in fact engaged in distributing any of our aid on that specific occasion.”
The Sunday times