A solution for the Ashraf crisis

Public Service Europe July 6, 2011 – Repatriation of Ashraf residents to third countries in Europe and North America is the only answer, says Struan Stevenson MEP

On April 8 – a vicious massacre took place in Camp Ashraf, Northern Iraq, home for the past 20 years to more than 3,400 Iranian dissidents. Under relentless pressure from the Iranian government, the Iraqi military sent five divisions of heavily armed troops with tanks and armoured vehicles to mow down unarmed men and women in a brutal assault that shocked the civilised world.

 As the head of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with Iraq, I visited Baghdad and Erbil following the massacre to express our horror to President Talabani, President Barzani and senior government officials. Unfortunately, the government of Iraq rejected our request to visit Ashraf to see for ourselves the aftermath of the tragedy.

I remain deeply concerned that another bloody attack could take place at any time, leading to a Srebrenica-style annihilation of the unarmed refugees in the camp. It was clear from our discussions in Baghdad that an urgent solution had to be found to the Ashraf crisis. The United Nations Secretary General’s representative in Iraq asked me to make contact with the leadership of the Ashraf refugees at their headquarters in Paris, to explore possible avenues for a long-term resolution.

On my return to Europe from Iraq I travelled immediately to Paris and spent five hours in intense discussion with the leadership of the Iranian opposition. Together, we thrashed out a plan that provides the only viable alternative to violence and further bloodshed. The solution offers repatriation of the residents of Ashraf to third countries in Europe and North America, once the situation in Ashraf has been normalised. The solution was considered to be the only viable and realistic solution for Ashraf – which has gained widespread support in the US, Iraq and other Arab countries as well as European nations and from the Ashraf residents themselves.

The plan requires the active involvement of the UN, the US and the European Union. It recognises the Iraqi government’s right of sovereignty over their own territory. But it also recognises the rights of the 3,400 unarmed residents of Ashraf – to protection under the Geneva Convention. The plan lays the groundwork for negotiations involving the Iraqi Government and sets out a proposal to re-settle all of the refugees to the US, Canada, Australia, Norway, Switzerland and the 27 EU member states – depending on where they have previous associations, connections or family contacts.

But I have made it clear in all discussions with the Iraqi Government that we are not willing to enter into any negotiations with them unless four key pre-conditions are met. Firstly, the military forces must be withdrawn from Camp Ashraf. Secondly, the siege of the camp which has gone on uninterrupted for more than two years, involving hundreds of loudspeakers blaring high decibel threats and propaganda 24 hours a day – plus interruptions to vital medical, energy and water supplies – must immediately stop. Thirdly, there must be an independent inquiry into the massacre on April 8 – with the perpetrators identified and brought to justice. And fourthly, those critically injured during the April 8 attack must be given immediate access to proper hospital care. In other words, the Iraqi government must restore an environment as near to normality as possible in Ashraf, before negotiations can begin on the long-term resolution to this crisis.

Only if these conditions are met will we have confidence that the Iraqi authorities really do intend to bring this situation to a positive conclusion. But during this period of transition the UN will have to take control over the safety and security of the camp, ensuring the residents receive all necessary living and medical supplies. At the same time, a committee will be set up to take the plan forward – consisting of key individuals from the EU, US, UN and Arab League as well as members of Iraq’s government and parliament, residents from Camp Ashraf and the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Baroness Ashton and the EU Foreign Affairs Council, together with the US President and the UN Secretary General, must now back this solution and throw their weight behind it in order to ensure that the lives of 3,400 Iranians are saved and Iraq moves along a path upon which respect for human rights and the rule of law is prevalent, in a land which has been mired in violence for too long.

Struan Stevenson is a Conservative MEP in Scotland and president of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with Iraq and president of the Friends of Free Iran Intergroup

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