Migrants preparing to board a smuggler's boat on the beach of Gravelines, near Dunkirk, northern France (Photo by Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP)
Artillery Row

What does it mean to be a charity?

There is a difference between IMIX and your local soup kitchen

One hundred and twenty charities have written to Home Secretary Suella Braverman, calling for a “fair, kind and effective” approach to immigration. This has added to the pressure Braverman is under from media outlets over her words and deeds in dealing with uncontrolled immigration across the English Channel.

The open letter was organised by the charity IMIX, which described itself as, “a team of professional communication experts who want to change the conversation about migration and refugees to create a more welcoming society”. In its glossy strategy document it sets out what this means in practice: “media interventions” to persuade the public to welcome migrants, developing “new narratives” and increasing the “celebration of people who migrate”. 

In particular, it states it  wants to reach out to the “persuadable middle”, such as “One Nation Conservatives”, in order to “build more support” for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. It also believes in being proactive. It warns against “far-right narratives” and says it supports groups working to “put forward alternative perspectives” on channel crossings and detention. 

IMIX brags about already working with the Daily Mail, LBC, ITV, GQ and Ladbible. To make the level of work feasible, it says it’s considering “alternative funding models” such as paid consultancy and charging for training sessions. So it’s working as a kind of public affairs firm but for migrants. Yet, oddly, it is in fact a charity. 

The majority of channel crossers are in fact Albanians

A look at the IMIX finances reveals that, whilst it boasts an annual income of £462,317, almost all of this comes from big foundations such as the AB Charitable Trust (funded by the wealthy Bonavero family), Esmee Fairbairn (founded by financier Ian Fairairn in 1961) or the OAK Foundation (founded by billionaire Alan Parker). In fact, once you remove all of the big foundation grants, the only donation left is one for £500. That would barely pay a few days of the salary of the highest paid employee at IMIX, who earns between £70-80,000. 

Most people might assume that charities are largely involved in things like soup kitchens or running homeless shelters, all funded by the generous giving of ordinary people. Lax charity laws mean that far more these days are like IMIX: highly professional lobbying organisations, whose work is largely carried out in offices, and who are largely reliant on grant money provided from millionaire or billionaire founded bodies.

That’s not the only odd thing. Although it probably won’t surprise many to find a former BBC journalist or a former senior member of left-wing think tank the IPPR amongst its team and trustees, it is odd to see Agnès Estibals on the list of trustees. She’s not a former anything. Instead she’s still a senior civil servant, currently working at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Her IMIX blurb notes that she is “committed to promoting the positive contribution that immigrants from all backgrounds make”. How being the trustee of a charity which is lobbying a minister to change government policy fits in with Civil Service neutrality must be left to the subtle minds of Whitehall.

As for the open letter, it calls on the Home Secretary to take pity on the “Iranian women”, “Afghan activists”, “teenagers fleeing brutal military dictatorships”, girls being used as “sex slaves” and parents “escaping war zones”. Yet the majority of channel crossers are in fact Albanians — who have left a country which is neither a dictatorship nor a warzone. Indeed, according to Dan O’Mahoney, Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, up to two per cent of the adult male Albanian population has travelled to Britain on small boats. Most arrivals of all nationalities are men aged between 18 and 39. Women, teenagers, girls and older people are all in short supply. 

Of course IMIX works, as it freely admits, to change perceptions about migrants. Some might point out that there is a difference between changing perceptions to fit reality and changing perceptions to suit your preferences. Some might also suggest that we should be sceptical about the nature of charities.

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