Two drowned on Govt-funded volunteer scheme

Two young people have drowned and others have been sexually assaulted while taking part in a government-funded volunteering programme, it has emerged.

Other volunteers were detained by local police during their time with the International Citizen Service (ICS), the National Audit Office reported.

The £173m programme was launched David Cameron in 2011 during his second year as prime minister, and allows 18 to 25-year-olds to volunteer in poor communities in 21 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Those aged 25 to 35 can take up leadership roles on the various projects.

The NAO report said the Department for International Development (DfID) sees ICS as a “high-risk programme due to the security and safety issues” involved in placing volunteers in developing countries.

Petty and violent crime, endemic diseases, political instability and natural disasters are all concerns.

The report said: “Since phase two of the programme started, 3.75% of participants have been involved in incidents, including 0.24% who were involved in critical incidents and 0.07% in crisis incidents.

“ICS safeguarding incidents have included death by drowning of two volunteers, sexual assaults, and the detention of volunteers by local police.”

Since its launch, more than 30,000 young people have volunteered across the world, with the number of British participants being matched by youngsters from the country they are in.

David Cameron

Image: David Cameron launched the service in 2011

Phase one, which ran from April 2012 to August 2015, provided placements for 7,000 UK volunteers – while phase two, which runs until February 2019, has the aim of providing 10,000 placements for UK volunteers.

The Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), which runs the programme, has taken action against charities and organisations which provide volunteering opportunities over safety concerns.

“Volunteers have experienced a variety of incidents in 2015 and 2016. VSO served notice under the provisions of its contract with one consortium member and paused the contract of another following security and safeguarding concerns,” the report said.

In 2013, the programme faced widespread criticism after a government study into the programme found each volunteer was costing the tax-payer £7,633 for their three-month stint abroad.

A review in March this year found the VSO had made progress in terms of safety, security and safeguarding policies.

However, it had missed diversity targets and had “not consistently delivered development impact”.

A DfID spokesperson said: “The NAO rightly highlights that the International Citizen Service programme provides a life-changing opportunity for young people to help the world’s poorest, fly the flag for Global Britain overseas and build their own skills, confidence and job prospects.

“The safety and wellbeing of all ICS volunteers is our first priority and this report acknowledges the actions we have taken.

“There are constant assessments and review of ICS programmes and we will not hesitate to stop working with partners that cannot meet our security standards.”