THE WIP – By Shahriar Kia February 20, 2012
It’s been five months since the 3400 Iranian dissidents of camp Ashraf, in Iraq, submitted their requests to UNHCR. But UNHCR has not yet begun its work to reconfirm the status of the residents of this camp as asylum seekers. Bowing to Iranian pressure and looking to pave the way for the slaughter of the residents, the Iraqi government has conditioned the start of this process to their relocation to a prison in Baghdad, ironically named as ‘Camp Liberty’.
Iraq claims that it only wants the Iranian refugees, including 1000 women, member of the main Iranian group opposing the mullahs in Iran, the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MeK), out of camp Ashraf and out of Iraq.
Contrary to Iraqi claims, not only is camp Liberty in no way ready to receive these refugees; the push to have the residents relocated is done with the intention of subjecting them to more pressure and as part of Iran’s plan to have Iraq do its dirty work and disintegrate its opposition.
Residents of camp Ashraf are members of the Iranian resistance and for the past 25 years they have been living in this camp as immigrants. In January 2009, and despite numerous warnings by the residents about the prospect of leaving them in the hands of the Iraqi government – which in itself was a clear breach of an agreement signed between the US government and the residents – the US relinquished its responsibilities to Iraq.
From the very outset, Iraq imposed a comprehensive, inhumane siege on camp Ashraf in addition to launching two full-fledged, callus assaults against the camp in July of 2009 and April 8, 2011 – leaving 47 residents dead, including 8 women, and more than 1000 injured, including many female residents. The objective was clear; either slaughter the residents or, at the very least, have them repatriated to Iran where they’ll, most certainly, be executed.
Soon after the bloody April 8 crackdown, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Noori al-Maliki set a deadline to have the residents expelled from Iraq or repatriated by December 31, 2011. Based on reports obtained by the Iranian resistance from Iran, the deadline was a conspiracy by Tehran and Baghdad to set the scene for another massacre at Ashraf and the complete destruction of the Iranian resistance.
Human rights and women’s rights organizations called for an international campaign in defense of camp Ashraf residents particularly 1000 women in the camp. Many members of both houses of the US congress, as well as, senior officials from the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, called on their government to honor its obligations and the agreement it has signed with each camp Ashraf resident; uphold its responsibility to protect their lives and to not close its eyes to a pending tragedy.
Here is one of the recent remarks by US and EU officials at the Paris International Conference on camp Ashraf –January 20, 2012.
The international campaign finally succeeded in forcing Noori Maliki to back down and extend his illegal deadline to May of 2012. Having accepted the plan proposed by the European parliament for resettlement in third countries, and to support the chances of a long-standing and peaceful solution, on August 16, 2011, residents of camp Ashraf submitted official requests to UNHCR for reconfirmation of their political asylum status and their eventual resettlement in third countries. But till this date, the process has been impeded by the Iranian regime, as well as, the Iraqi government and UNHCR has not been allowed to initiate its work.
The Iraqi government has barred UNHCR from beginning its work and has conditioned the start of the interviews to the relocation of residents to a new location which lacks essential international human rights standards.
Camp Liberty, a prison where camp Ashraf residents will face psychological torture.
The new place called Camp Liberty is supposed to be a 40 square KM standardized refugee camp but now its total area decreased into a half kilometer square meters and it’s surrounded by towering concrete walls.
The residents will not be permitted to travel outside of this encampment nor will they have access to their lawyers. There is no running water in the camp and the residents must purchase the water they need from outside sources. Their living quarters will consist of worn-out trailers used, years ago, to temporarily house US soldiers.
But most disheartening of all is the presence of Iraqi forces within the boundaries of the camp under the pretense of protecting the residents. These are the same forces which, on at least two occasions, participated in the violent assaults against camp Ashraf that resulted in the death of 47 residents.
In a clear breach of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), signed between head of UNAMI and the Iraqi government, the UNAMI outpost will be outside of the camp and as such the residents will not have direct, uninterrupted access and must be escorted by Iraqi armed forces. The UNAMI monitoring team and US embassy personnel can not enter the camp without prior knowledge and approval of the Iraqi government which is another violation of the MoU.
The question that has yet to be answered by the international community and the US, in particular, as it bears full responsibility for the current situation in Ashraf – concerns the status of the residents: are they, as UNHCR has officially declared, asylum-seekers or are they prisoners?
What is the true incentive behind the plan to relocate them to camp Liberty and who, but the Iranian regime, backs this plan? These are all questions which have remained unanswered.
At a time when residents of camp Ashraf have guns pointed at their heads and live under constant threat of death; applying pressure to relocate them, specially the 1000 women, to a new location which lacks minimum standards, means nothing but a sinister plan to forcibly relocate the residents and destroy the Iranian resistance.
At a time when the residents have announced, that as a goodwill gesture and to support prospects of a peaceful solution, the first group of 400 residents are prepared to be relocated to camp Liberty, all those who are pressuring the women and men of camp Ashraf to relocate before acceptable standards for such a relocation are met, should know that they are a party to this sinister plan and will be held accountable.