list of ngos studied in THE UK

MERLINMedical Emergency Relief International
Country of head officeUNITED KINGDOM
Postal address of the head office4th Floor, 56-64 Leonard Street,
London EC2A 4LT
Telephone44 (0)20 7065 0800
Fax44 (0)20 7065 0801
"Branches" abroad0
Date of creation of the NGO1993
Level of actionOperational agency
Religious characterNone
Percentage of private resourcesMERLIN - UNITED KINGDOM
30% out of a € 55.2 million budget in 2008
33% out of a € 46.3 million budget in 2007
35% out of a € 41.3 million budget in 2006
52% out of a € 38.5 million budget in 2005
15% out of a € 21 million budget in 2004
8% out of a € 20.7 million budget in 2003
n.a. out of a € 12.6 million budget in 2002
n.a. out of a € 12.5 million budget in 2001
31% out of a € 11 million budget in 2000
n.a. out of a € 11.2 million budget in 1999
8% out of a € 11.2 million budget in 1998
n.a. out of a € 8.3 million budget in 1997
9% out of a € 7.4 million budget in 1996
Countries of actionSeveral


- History -

-January 1993, United Kingdom: three friends with a medical background and some experience in humanitarian organisations, Nicholas Mellor, a scientist, Chris Besse, a doctor, and Mark Dalton, a logistician, decide to found an emergency relief NGO. The initial idea was to open a British section of MSF. However, the Dutch headquarters did not feel the need for an operational agency in London, only a fund-raising one. Merlin, which is not helped either by Oxfam or SCF, can only rely on itself and launches its first programme. In the midst of the fighting in ex-Yugoslavia, it delivers food rations to Sarajevo.

-From 1997, Liberia: Merlin sets up a programme in a country devastated by civil war. From 1999 onwards, the situation deteriorates again. In June 2003, some of the organisation’s supplies are plundered by the governmental forces in Monrovia, which is surrounded by the rebels. After the negotiated departure of President Charles Taylor in August, Merlin’s director in Liberia, Karen Goodman Jones, deems the security conditions insufficient to carry out a transfer to the suburbs of the displaced populations in the capital. She especially criticises the strategy of the ICRC, which concentrates its relief efforts on camps on the periphery of the city so as to relieve the town centre of its congestion and to reopen primary schools.

-From 1998, Russia: after two years in the region, Merlin leaves Chechnya in 1998 following the plunder of its offices and several attacks against its employees. Yet the organisation stays in Russia, where it provides vital healthcare and social support to former prisoners and other patients suffering from tuberculosis in the city of Dzerzhinsk, 240 miles east of Moscow. The relations with the authorites prove to be difficult. In May 2005, the government prepares a new law on foreign NGOs and accuses Merlin of spying for Britain.

-From January 2002, United Kingdom: Merlin reorganises, increases its advocacy and starts a programme of controlled growth. It switches from recruiting volunteers to only experienced staff and focuses solely on health disasters and conflict.

-From January 2003, Iraq: Merlin negotiates an ad hoc agreement with Baghdad but has to give up going to Iraq for want of institutional funding since most of western countries refused to violate the embargo and to operate otherwise than within the United Nations’ programme, “ Oil for Food ”, implemented from December 1996 onwards. After the anti-terrorist Coalition’s offensive against Saddam Hussein’s regime in March 2003, the organisation goes in and publicly denounces the efforts made by the American high commandment to supervise all humanitarian missions. Unlike other NGOS such as Oxfam, which refuse subsidies from belligerent States, Merlin accepts a grant from the British government’s Department for International Development. Yet the deployment of the American and British troops doesn’t make the relief operations any easier. Faced with an ever increasing insecurity and the multiplication of attacks against humanitarian organisations, Merlin chooses to evacuate its expatriate staff to Jordan in September 2003. In April 2004, Merlin criticises the anti-terrorist Coalition for Geneva Convention abuses.

- Comments -

1) The mission
-The British equivalent of MSF, Merlin is specialised in medical emergency relief but does also lead longer term projects against tuberculosis, malaria or AIDS. On the whole, the organisation always tries to ensure that the local authorities are in a position to carry on its programmes before withdrawing. It is forced to put an end to programmes when the funding is no longer assured.

2) The way it works

-Merlin has become more professional since the early days of the organisation when it mostly employed volunteers. According to Geoff Prescott, executive director of Merlin, it employed in 2003 more than 1,300 local paid workers, about thirty persons at the London headquarters and a hundred expatriates, of which 60% weren’t British. Though working in regions of armed conflict, the organisation has never had violent deaths amongst its staff, except a worker killed in a traffic accident in Liberia in December 2003.

-After some initial tensions with NGOs working in the same field, Merlin today claims to enjoy good relations with Oxfam, Action Against Hunger and SCF. In Liberia and in Kashmir, in particular, it cooperated with MSF-Holland.

3) The public relations
-Unlike MSF, Merlin avoids denouncing the exaction its employees can happen to witness and thus risking its presence in the country. The organisation, which aims at political neutrality, does though use the press as a public tribune and acts less confidentially than the ICRC. Regarding financial activities, Merlin’s annual reports were not available on the web until 2006 and they give little details about the origin of resources.

4) The financial resources
-Before the creation of the Euro currency in 1999, Merlin’s budgets are calculated by AidWatch according to the following exchange rates: £1 = €1.64 in 1996, £1 = €1.45 in 1997 and £1 = €1.49 in 1998.

-Financially speaking, Merlin’s budget had more than doubled in five years, between 1997 and 2003. The organisation depends a lot on institutional grants, which limits its room for manoeuvre. Though its accounts are balanced, it encounters difficulties diversifying its funding and suffers from a lack of recognition by the British public, who usually prefer to donate to the older and better known charities. For private donations, Merlin belongs to the Disasters Emergency Committee, which launches ad hoc appeals and redistributes collected funds proportionally to the size of the budgets of its members. Merlin seeks new patrons in the private sector, especially pharmaceutical companies, but rests wary as to the origins of its funds. According to its director Geoff Prescott, the organisation thus refused 750,000 euros from Nestlé (a firm that War On Want had accused in 1974 of selling powdered milk regardless of the consequences on malnutrition and baby mortality in the third-world, breast feeding being the best way to immunise against various diseases).

-Grants from the Jersey Overseas Aid Committee could raise controversy because the island launders money from third world dictatorships like General Sani Abacha's Nigeria between 1993 and 1998. Merlin thus risks using diverted public funds from developing countries that invest very little in health infrastructures.

5) The links with economics
-We do not know if the humanitarian NGO has any link with a homonymous British medical manufacturer, Merlin Medical.

- Written sources -
-Annual Reviews (1998, 2000 and since 2003).

- Right to reply -

Aid Watch thanks Merlin for its cooperation. After various attempts to meet Merlin in London, a first version of the “history” part of this profile was discussed on 9th Dec. 2003 through email with Geoff Prescott, Chief Executive Officer of the organisation.


Translation and latest update: D.R. 05.06.04, M.-A.M. 31.05.08

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