U.N. should reject plan to relocate Iranian dissidents in Iraq

Wednesday, 23 November 2011 17:11    .LONDON, Nov. 22 (UPI) – By DAVID AMESS – “History can be a great teacher … if we bother to remember it.” But, when it comes to the fate of Iranian dissidents in Iraq in Camp Ashraf, it seems history cannot be a teacher simply because we don’t want to bother to remember.

The situation is strikingly similar to the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. The government of Iraq wants to resettle the 3,400 Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf to another location in Iraq. This is tantamount to their massacre.

Unlike during World War II, the world now enjoys from the good offices of the United Nations. Would the United Nations succumb to Iraqi pressure and fall into its trap to agree with resettlement in Iraq?

The Ashraf residents, protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention, are members of the principal Iranian opposition movement, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, which Iran considers enemy No. 1.

During the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Ashraf residents remained neutral. The following year, the United States gave written guarantees to all of them that, in return for a voluntary disarmament, the United States would protect them. But, in early 2009, the United States handed over responsibility for the security of the camp to Iraqi forces. Since then, the camp has been under a punishing blockade, with residents deprived of basic services, such as access to proper medical help.

Ashraf was the scene of two armed assaults by the Iraqi army in 2009 and last April, when 36 people, including eight women, were killed and more than 300 were wounded.

At the behest of Tehran, the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki set Dec. 31 as the deadline for the camp to close. Given the experience of the two raids, there are no grounds for believing that in December the world wouldn’t witness another massacre of defenseless Iranian refugees.

In September, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, stating that the Iranian dissidents are asylum-seekers entitled to international protection, urged that Ashraf’s closure be delayed. Still, Baghdad insists that the December deadline be met. Iraq hasn’t the slightest interest in letting the UNHCR carry out its mission. Rather, by refusing to cooperate, it is creating the pretext to claim that no progress has been made and that the only solution is the forcible closure of the camp.

In a formal letter that the government of Iraq provided to a number of European institutions in November, a copy of which I obtained, Baghdad stated its objective is to evacuate the camp and transfer its residents to other camps in Iraq.

In several parts of that letter the government of Iraq unscrupulously pointed out this is done in view of its relationship with Iran and its interference in Iraqi affairs. Transferring Ashraf residents to other locations in Iraq is tantamount to issuing their death warrants.

Here are a few lessons I have learned in the past few years:

Assurances from Iraqi authorities are worthless and are actually more like ploys to deceive the international community. Six hours prior to the assault last April, the U.S. Embassy in Iraq received assurance from Maliki that there would be “no violence.” Lying to the U.N. representatives in Iraq is much easier than lying to the United States.

The Iraqi government is very good at lying and changing its version of events. During the April raid, despite videos showing Iraqi armed forces mowing the defenseless refugees down and armored vehicles rolling over them, Iraq’s official position was first that there were no casualties. When the corpses of dozens of refugees couldn’t be denied, Iraq said they had committed suicide.

If Ashraf residents are dispersed in small groups as the Iraqi government intends to do and the United Nations doesn’t oppose, without cameras and phones, Iraqi authorities would be able to torture and assassinate them in secret and claim they committed suicide.

Ashraf residents have shown utter flexibility to facilitate their relocation to third countries. While, legally they have all the right to stay in Iraq, they applied for asylum through the UNHCR. They even urged the UNHCR to start the process as quickly as possible and agreed to carry out individual interviews at a location under the full control of the UNHCR outside the parameters of the camp. Yet, the government of Iraq keeps pushing for one demand: Relocation in Iraq. The United Nations should notice the ominous objective of the Iraqi government.

The Iraqi plan is strikingly reminiscent of the “resettlement” plan of the Third Reich for Warsaw Ghetto residents. Ashraf residents would have to be suicidal to accept to be relocated in Iraq peacefully. Like the Warsaw Ghetto residents, those in Ashraf would have to resist any deportation order by any means they have.

The United Nations should show some encore and fend off Iraqi pressure by rejecting any notion of relocation inside of Iraq for Ashraf residents. Instead it should demand that that Iraq start to cooperate with the UNHCR and allow immediate interviewing of Ashraf residents to reaffirm their refugee status.

Meanwhile, the United States, European Union and United Nations should demand that the Dec. 31 deadline be extended. For the period of the final disposition and transferring Ashraf residents to third countries, U.N. monitors should be placed in Ashraf to guarantee their rights.
It is time for the United Nations to act as the guardian of international principles.

David Amess, a Conservative Member of Parliament from the United Kingdom, is a leading member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.

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