Most locals continue to support Oxfam, says director


The director of Oxfam Belgium says that he is ‘absolutely appalled’ at the scandals rocking one of the world’s most famous charities

No change in federal funding

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.

An investigation by The Times newspaper in London recently revealed that six British aid workers, led by a Belgian national working for Oxfam UK, paid for sex when stationed in Haiti in 2011. According to sources within the organisation, the group 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.

It came to light that Van Hauwermeiren had been sacked from another charity in Liberia in 2004 for similar behaviour. He went on to lead delegations as an employee of Oxfam, first in Chad – a post from he was also removed – and then in Haiti.

‘They made a big mistake’

Van Hauwermeiren, now 68, currently lives at the Flemish coast. In an open letter to VTM this week, he categorically denied that he ever paid sex workers in any of the three countries in question. He admitted to having a relationship with a woman in Haiti but said that she was not a prostitute.

The chair of Oxfam Belgium, Stefaan Declercq (pictured above), appeared on the Flemish talk programme Van Gils & gasten this week. “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 regular donations to Oxfam Belgium, he said, 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.”

I worry that people will use this situation as an excuse to bury development co-operation

- Geena Peeters

Declercq 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”.

In the meantime, the federal government has made no changes in its planned funding of the organisation, which this year amounts to €7.4 million. The money is earmarked for development projects, including in Niger, Mali and Congo.

“I worry that people will use this situation as an excuse to bury development co-operation,” said Flemish TV personality and singer Geena Peeters, who also appeared on Van Gils & gasten. Peeters has been closely involved with Oxfam, appearing in a campaign. “It is so necessary to continue these projects right now in order to create change in developing nations and to establish a balance at the global level.”