Humanitarian disasters offer opportunities for terrorist groups to infiltrate conflict areas under the guise of providing humanitarian assistance, and to raise or send funds to these areas under the same cover. In the case of Australia, terrorists and their supporters have at times sought to portray themselves as humanitarian workers in order to construct a legal defence.

While most humanitarian groups operating in Syria have legitimate aims, the civil war and rise of radical Islamist groups that resulted has shown how easily the desire to assist those in need can be manipulated by jihadists. In order to minimise the likelihood of this sector being exploited in the future, countries such as Australia should utilise regulatory and legislative frameworks to limit the ability of individuals and groups to exploit humanitarian assistance in high-risk areas.

Key findings:

  • While terrorist abuse of charitable donations is a limited problem, even small amounts of funding can have disproportionately large effects.
  • Early government intervention in setting due diligence standards for humanitarian aid groups operating in, or raising funds for use in, high-risk conflict zones is essential.
  • The Australian Government should use the ‘declared area’ legislation more widely to raise the risk threshold for those seeking to use humanitarian assistance as cover for supporting terrorist causes overseas.
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