Other Group

White Helmets

Founder:

James Le Mesurier

Formation:

2014

Type:

Volunteer Group

The White Helmets, also known as known as Syria Civil Defense, is a volunteer group based in Syria. The group mostly completes search and rescue missions, helping victims trapped under rubble due to explosions. Although the White Helmets is not an official nonprofit organization, it receives funding from governments around the world via “international partners,” which accept donations and then fund its programs. [1]

The Syria Campaign fundraises for the White Helmets and uses the Voices Project USA to process any donations received for the organizations. [2] The White Helmets have received approximately $52,558,523 from the government of the United Kingdom[3] and around $15.2 million from the Netherlands since 2013. [4]

Background

The White Helmets, also know as Syria Civil Defense, is a group of volunteers in Syria who assist in the recovery of people who may be trapped under rubble due to bombing, shelling, and other effects of the Syrian Civil War. The organization started as a scattered effort of volunteers from all over Syria before those groups united formally to create an “independent, impartial organization” in October 2014 after the group signed a “charter of principles.” [5]

The White Helmets is comprised of more than 3,000 volunteer rescue workers,[6] and claims to have saved more than 115,000 lives due to its search and rescue efforts,[7] which earned the White Helmets the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the “alternate Nobel Prize.” The award is worth £271,184 (around $370,979), split between four recipients. [8]

The Syria Campaign, a nonprofit organization in the United Kingdom, fundraises on behalf of the White Helmets. It is registered as the Voices Project in the U.K. and has a German variant named Voices Project Germany. Donations to the Syria Campaign are processed through Voices Project USA, its United States affiliate. [9]

Funding

The White Helmets are not a formal nonprofit organization, meaning that the group does not have an official way to receive donations. Instead, the Syria Campaign fundraises on behalf of the group, and any donations received are processed through the Voices Project USA. [10]

As of early 2021, only Voices Project USA’s 2018 tax filing is publicly available. According to the tax filing, Voices Project USA received $595,355 in contributions and grants, which represented the entirety of its revenue. The organization paid $414,554 in grants, $195,625 in “other expenses,” and $104,797 in “salaries, other compensation, employee benefits,” meaning the organization paid $714,976 in total expenses for 2018. [11]

The Syria Campaign notes that money raised from its campaigning goes directly to the White Helmets, but if a contribution is unable to be used for the “purpose originally specified,” the Campaign provides a disclaimer that it will be used to support “further campaigning on critical issues.” [12]

The Voices Project, based in the United Kingdom, is registered as a private company, meaning that details on its finances are limited. The company finished with just under £7.7 million (approximately $10.5 million) in “cash at bank or in hand” in 2016, just under £1.4 million (around $1.9 million) in 2017, and £185,000 (just over $250,000) in 2019. The Voices Project listed its “cash at bank or in hand” value as non-applicable in 2018. [13]

The Voices Project received $80,000 in 2018, 2019, and 2020 from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund for general support and “peacebuilding.” [14]

The Voices Project also received $100,701 from 1,482 backers on the fundraising website Indiegogo in 2015. The fundraiser was created to raise money for six ambulances, three for a White Helmets team in Aleppo and three for a team in Idlib. [15]

According to its website, the White Helmets’s activities of “civil defense” are supported by the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Holland, Germany, France, Japan, Canada, and Qatar. The website also notes that it does “not receive government funding directly,” but through “international partners” that support its programs. [16]

A request was submitted to the British government in 2017 regarding the way money was allocated to the White Helmets from the United Kingdom. The question on the request also asked to view at least one quarterly financial report to understand how the money is being spent by the White Helmets. [17]

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom responded by claiming governmental support is provided “through our implementing partner Mayday Rescue,” a foundation in the Netherlands. It received “Conflict Stability and Security Fund money” from the United Kingdom and was required to submit regular accounting for its support for the White Helmets. [18] The Netherlands also contributed €12.5 million (approximately $15.2 million) to the Mayday Rescue Foundation. [19]

The Mayday Rescue Foundation, founded by White Helmets co-founder James Le Mesurier, committed fraud in 2019[20] and was declared insolvent in August 2020. [21]

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office refused to make a quarterly financial report public. According to the response, “transparency poses a risk” as companies and individuals would be less likely to provide the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with commercially sensitive information if the office disclosed a quarterly report. [22]

According to a response to a previous records request, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom noted the “total value of funds” committed by the government between June 2013 and March 2016 amounted to around £19.7 million (approximately $27 million). [23]

Due to another information request submitted in 2018, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office released information regarding government funding of the White Helmets. The disclosure states that as of March 2018, the British government provided a total sum of £38,425,591 (approximately $52,558,523) to the White Helmets. [24]

This amount does not include the £716,000 (around $979,122) that the Conflict Stability and Security Fund sent to the White Helmets to support “emergency search and rescue work in Idlib” in the 2019-2020 financial year. [25]

According to Salon, the U.S. Department of State provided the White Helmets with $23 million before 2017. [26]

Controversies

Financial Misconduct

In 2019, the Mayday Rescue Foundation, used by the government of the United Kingdom to fund the White Helmets, admitted to fraud and financial abuse. During a visit to the Mayday office in Istanbul, a Dutch accountant discovered false receipts which showed that $50,000 had disappeared from the foundation. The money, which was intended to be sent to the White Helmets, was instead sent to James Le Mesurier. [27]

Le Mesurier, founder of the White Helmets and the Mayday Rescue Foundation, reportedly informed donor nations including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany via a letter. He claimed full responsibility, and also offered his resignation. [28]

According to the next administrator of the Mayday Rescue Foundation, the donor countries started an investigation but wished to keep it a secret. Although there was no embezzlement, the majority of the Mayday Rescue Foundation’s financial administration was missing, meaning large transactions could not be checked. [29] Three days after admitting to fraud, Le Mesurier was found dead on the street below the window of his apartment in Istanbul, Turkey. Turkish investigators believed the death to be a suicide. [30]

Mannequin Challenge Video

Members of the White Helmets appeared in a 2016 video released by the Revolutionary Forces of Syria, a Qatar-founded coalition of groups opposed to the Syrian government. The video is the White Helmets’s version of the “Mannequin Challenge,” in which participants must hold a pose without moving for a small amount of time. The video shows two White Helmet volunteers helping what appears to be a victim of an explosion under rubble. [31]

According to a White Helmets statement to the BBC, the video was not sanctioned by the group. Nonetheless, the White Helmets’s statement claimed that the video was created to show the “connection between the horror of Syria and the outside world, using the viral Mannequin Challenge.” [32]

References

  1. “Funding,” Syria Civil Defence, accessed January 22, 2021, https://www.syriacivildefence.org/en/who-we-are/who-funds-the-white-helmets/. ^
  2. “Support the White Helmets,” Support the White Helmets, accessed January 22, 2021, https://www.whitehelmets.org/en/. ^
  3. “FOI 0400 18 Response.pdf,” WhatDoTheyKnow, accessed January 22, 2021, https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/477177/response/1154293/attach/html/3/FOI%200400%2018%20Response.pdf.html. ^
  4. Ana van Es and Anneke Stoffelen, “Founder of Foundation behind White Helmets Admits Fraud,” de Volkskrant, July 17, 2020, https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/founder-of-foundation-behind-white-helmets-admits-fraud~b5dacd0c/?referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F. ^
  5. “Origins,” Syria Civil Defence, accessed January 22, 2021, https://www.syriacivildefence.org/en/who-we-are/standard-page/. ^
  6. Brynn Holland, “Who Are the White Helmets?,” History.com (A&E Television Networks, April 9, 2018), https://www.history.com/news/who-are-the-white-helmets. ^
  7. “Search and Rescue,” Syria Civil Defence, accessed January 22, 2021, https://www.syriacivildefence.org/en/our-work/search-and-rescue/. ^
  8. “Syria’s White Helmets Win ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’,” BBC News (BBC, September 22, 2016), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-37442277. ^
  9. “Support the White Helmets,” Support the White Helmets, accessed January 22, 2021, https://www.whitehelmets.org/en/. ^
  10. “Support the White Helmets,” Support the White Helmets, accessed January 22, 2021, https://www.whitehelmets.org/en/. ^
  11. Sisi Wei Mike Tigas, “VOICES PROJECT USA INC – Form Form 990 for Period Ending Dec 2018 – Nonprofit Explorer,” ProPublica, May 9, 2013, https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/823505967/12_2019_prefixes_82-86%2F823505967_201812_990_2019121316952811. ^
  12. “Support the White Helmets,” Support the White Helmets, accessed January 22, 2021, https://www.whitehelmets.org/en/. ^
  13. “Filing History for THE VOICES PROJECT (08825761),” THE VOICES PROJECT – Filing history (free information from Companies House), accessed January 22, 2021, https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/08825761/filing-history. ^
  14. “The Voices Project USA, Inc.,” Rockefeller Brothers Fund, August 3, 2020, https://www.rbf.org/grantees/voices-project-usa-inc. ^
  15. The Syria Campaign, “Support the Women Saving Syria from the Bombs,” Indiegogo, November 13, 2014, https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/support-the-women-saving-syria-from-the-bombs#/. ^
  16. “Funding,” Syria Civil Defence, accessed January 22, 2021, https://www.syriacivildefence.org/en/who-we-are/who-funds-the-white-helmets/. ^
  17. “Freedom of Information Request – FCO Response 2017,” gov.uk, accessed January 22, 2021, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/652400/FOI_0749-17_letter.pdf ^
  18. “Freedom of Information Request – FCO Response 2017,” gov.uk, accessed January 22, 2021, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/652400/FOI_0749-17_letter.pdf ^
  19. Ana van Es and Anneke Stoffelen, “Founder of Foundation behind White Helmets Admits Fraud,” de Volkskrant, July 17, 2020, https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/founder-of-foundation-behind-white-helmets-admits-fraud~b5dacd0c/?referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F. ^
  20. Ana van Es and Anneke Stoffelen, “Founder of Foundation behind White Helmets Admits Fraud,” de Volkskrant, July 17, 2020, https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/founder-of-foundation-behind-white-helmets-admits-fraud~b5dacd0c/?referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F. ^
  21. “Centraal Insolventieregister,” Centraal Insolventieregister, accessed January 22, 2021, https://insolventies.rechtspraak.nl/#!/details/13.ams.20.298.F.1300.1.20. ^
  22. “Freedom of Information Request – FCO Response 2017,” gov.uk, accessed January 22, 2021, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/652400/FOI_0749-17_letter.pdf ^
  23. “Freedom of Information Request – FCO Response 2017,” gov.uk, accessed January 22, 2021, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/652400/FOI_0749-17_letter.pdf ^
  24. “FOI 0400 18 Response.pdf,” WhatDoTheyKnow, accessed January 22, 2021, https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/477177/response/1154293/attach/html/3/FOI%200400%2018%20Response.pdf.html. ^
  25. “Written Questions and Answers – Written Questions, Answers and Statements – UK Parliament,” Written questions and answers – Written questions, answers and statements – UK Parliament, accessed January 22, 2021, https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2020-05-14/HL4538. ^
  26. Max Blumenthal, “Yet Another Video Shows U.S.-Funded White Helmets Assisting Public-Held Executions in Rebel-Held Syria,” Salon (Salon.com, May 25, 2017), https://www.salon.com/2017/05/25/yet-another-video-shows-u-s-funded-white-helmets-assisting-public-held-executions-in-rebel-held-syria_partner/. ^
  27. Ana van Es and Anneke Stoffelen, “Founder of Foundation behind White Helmets Admits Fraud,” de Volkskrant, July 17, 2020, https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/founder-of-foundation-behind-white-helmets-admits-fraud~b5dacd0c/?referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F. ^
  28. Ana van Es and Anneke Stoffelen, “Founder of Foundation behind White Helmets Admits Fraud,” de Volkskrant, July 17, 2020, https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/founder-of-foundation-behind-white-helmets-admits-fraud~b5dacd0c/?referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F. ^
  29. Ana van Es and Anneke Stoffelen, “Founder of Foundation behind White Helmets Admits Fraud,” de Volkskrant, July 17, 2020, https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/founder-of-foundation-behind-white-helmets-admits-fraud~b5dacd0c/?referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F. ^
  30. “Co-Founder of White Helmets Besieged by Funding Worries and Russian Propaganda Campaign against Him,” The Independent (Independent Digital News and Media, November 15, 2019), https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/james-le-mesurier-death-white-helmets-syria-russia-propaganda-a9204896.html. ^
  31. “White Helmets Backlash after Mannequin Challenge Video,” BBC News (BBC, November 24, 2016), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-38066791. ^
  32. “White Helmets Backlash after Mannequin Challenge Video,” BBC News (BBC, November 24, 2016), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-38066791. ^
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