The Red Cross has been forced to desert its international volunteer program that operates in Asia, the Pacific and Africa, blaming the Abbott government’s drastic cuts to the aid budget.This year’s federal budget saw $11 billion ripped from the aid budget, affecting Australian development projects and aid programs around the world.
Prospective volunteers from the Red Cross were emailed late on Friday afternoon informing them of the decision to exit the Australian Volunteers for International Development program.
“Because of this significant cut in funding, Australian Red Cross has decided to exit the AVID program over the next year,” the email said.
“This has been a very difficult decision, but in the current financial climate it was the best option to ensure efficiency and sustainability. An immediate implication of this decision is that Australian Red Cross will not send any new volunteers overseas through the AVID program after 30 June 2015.”
Under the program, the Red Cross has sent 500 volunteers over the past five years to developing countries and partnered with hundreds of local organisations on the ground.
Peter Walton, head of international programs at the Red Cross, said it was working “overtime” to find other ways to offer international volunteering opportunities. He also said the organisation was trying to keep as many international volunteers in their current assignments as possible before bringing them back to Australia.
“Red Cross would like to express enormous gratitude to the more than 500 volunteers and hundreds of partner organisations, who have made such a tremendous and long-lasting contribution to the lives of so many people and in so many communities around the world over the past five years,” he said.
The Red Cross is the first organisation to announce its exit of the AVID program, which launched in May 2011. The government-run program, which partnered with the Red Cross, Scope Global and Australian Volunteers International, once had 1000 Australian volunteers working overseas each year across 40 countries.
Scope Global and Australian Volunteers International are yet to announce how the cuts will affect their programs.
The executive director of the Australian Council for International Development, Marc Purcell, said the decision was disappointing.
“It is really unfortunate that recent cuts to Australia’s aid program will mean that there will be fewer organisations sending Australians to volunteer overseas as part of the AVID program,” he said.
“Australian volunteers made a real difference to the lives of people living in poor communities in many developing countries.”
The aid cuts have been heavily criticised by development organisations who say the cuts will undermine Australia’s national interests and harm the country’s relations abroad.
A spokeswoman for Foriegn Affairs Minister Julie Bishop confirmed that the Red Cross would “transition out of the current AVID program”.
“Existing Red Cross volunteers under the existing AVID program will complete their assignments,” she said.