European Voice.com – By Alejo Vidal-Quadras 20-3-2012
An agreement between the UN and the Iraqi government on the treatment of Iranian dissidents is not being respected.
Martin Kobler, the special representative of the United Nations’ secretary-general in Iraq, will visit Brussels on Wednesday to address the European Parliament’s foreign-affairs committee. At that meeting, he will hear of the grave concern felt by many MEPs about the conditions experienced by members of the Iranian opposition at two camps in Iraq, Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty.
A little background is helpful here:
Camp Ashraf, 65 kilometres north of Baghdad, has been the home of 3,400 members of the main Iranian opposition movement, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, also known as Mujaheedin-e-Khalq (MEK/PMOI).
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has vowed to close the camp by the end of 2011, a pledge that followed two massacres of Ashraf residents by Iraqi armed forces, acting – in my view – at the behest of the Iranian regime. These resulted in the deaths of 47 defenceless residents and the wounding of another 1,000.
Only a massive transatlantic campaign averted a humanitarian crisis, and Maliki extended his deadline, with the government of Iraq signing a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations.
Under the agreement, the dissidents would be moved to Camp Liberty, a former US military base near Baghdad where they could be interviewed by the UN Refugee Agency to confirm that they qualified for refugee status and, if so, could be transferred to third countries.
So far, three groups of hundreds of Ashraf residents have moved to Camp Liberty.
But the developments of the past month have made clear that Camp Liberty is certainly not “a temporary transit camp”. The present conditions in Liberty do not meet international humanitarian and human-rights standards. Accurate reports and photos about the camp’s infrastructure show that its water pipes, electricity generators, sewage tanks, and pathways are in a very poor condition. Only one of seven sections of the camp is relatively ready; a second part was handed over to the residents on 16 March with generators and water pumps not functioning and with much still needing to be done before it could accommodate more people. Indeed, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has never approved the conditions of this camp in its entirety.
A lack of freedom of movement, the denial of access to lawyers and the extensive presence of Iraqi police and armed forces in the camp are a breach of the most basic standards of human rights. In a few cases, Iraqi forces have even prevented the entry of US embassy officials to the camp. According to the written commitment of the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, US diplomats should be allowed frequent visits to the camp to ensure the safety and security of the residents.
Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), has continued to co-operate with the UNHCR and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and has worked hard to convince the Ashraf residents to move to Liberty, even though most of their minimum required assurances have not been fulfilled.
The UNHCR has already begun the process of determining refugee status. However, even though the first group of residents has been in Liberty for one month, the UNHCR has completed interviews with only a few dozen of them. This is an essential prerequisite for most of these refugees to be accepted by third countries.
What should be done?
While the government of Iraq simply refuses to implement most of the eminently fair requests from the residents, the UN ambassador, Martin Kobler, should guarantee the European Parliament that he will exert maximum pressure on the Maliki government to rectify all of the shortcomings noted at Camp Liberty and ensure that the camp’s infrastructure conforms with the terms of the memorandum of understanding and required international humanitarian standards before others are transferred from Ashraf.
We should not forget that the relocation of residents to Liberty is based fully on the agreement signed by the UN’s ambassador and by the government of Iraq. Thus, in view of the principle of right to protection constantly emphasised by the UN secretary-general, the ambassador should support and guarantee that the minimum assurances requested by the residents are met.
The UNHCR should accelerate the process of interviewing the residents at Liberty in order for the refugees to be resettled outside Iraq without further delay.
The European Parliament should do its utmost to convince the EU member states to accept Ashraf residents speedily.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a vice-president of the European Parliament since 1999, is a member of the Spain’s ruling centre-right People’s Party and of the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament.