MPs rally for Iranian refugees

Australian Associated Press(aap) – Bonny Symons-Brown
Thousands of Iranian civilians in a refugee camp north of Baghdad are living in fear that every day might be their last.

Their plight has come to the attention of a group of Australian politicians who have put aside their differences to lobby for the foreigners’ protection.

Labor MPs Kelvin Thompson, Laurie Ferguson and Senator Claire Moore, the Australian Greens’ Scott Ludlam, and Nationals senator John Williams met in Canberra on Thursday to discuss the plight of those living in Ashraf Camp.

Many of the 3400 exiles and refugees there are members and supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), an opposition group outlawed in their home state.

After waging an armed struggle against the Shah of Iran in the 1970s, United Nations research states that the group later received the backing of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Handing over their weapons to the US military in 2003, the residents of Ashraf Camp were extended protection under the fourth Geneva convention, Amnesty International said.

Control of the camp was transferred from the US to Iraq six years later and the group was told they would be treated legally.

But their Sydney representative Mohammad Sadeghpour said they have been attacked by Iraqi and Iranian forces instead.

According to Amnesty International, 35 camp residents were shot dead or run over just last month when Iraqi security forces attempted to take greater control of the area.

Mr Sadeghpour said the dead still hadn’t been buried.

“Those who were wounded (some 350) haven’t received any medical attention and there are still a lot of limitations for food, medicine, water, electricity,” he told AAP, adding people in the group were also being psychologically tortured.

Mr Thompson, who has written to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for American action on the issue, said it was time the PMOI was declassified as a terrorist organisation.

“An exhaustive investigation of all the residents of Ashraf in 2003 and 2004 found that not one could be charged with any crime let alone a charge of terrorist activity,” he said.

Mr Thompson called for the UN to take over the security of Ashraf, and ensure observers and peacekeepers were in place.

Amnesty spokesman Stephen Pitt Walker said Ashraf’s community was emblematic of the democratic movement and highly educated, which is probably why Iran was so threatened by them.

Senator Williams encouraged parliamentarians to sign a petition calling for intervention in the camp.

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