Camp Ashraf, about 60 kilometres north of Baghdad, is home to some 3,400 Iranian exiles and refugees, many of them members and supporters of the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI), a controversial Iranian group described by Iran, Iraq and the US as terrorists. (It has been removed from an EU terrorist list.) Amnesty International and other groups claim that some of these people would be at grave risk of torture or execution if they are repatriated to Iran. Here David Alton, a member of the House of Lords, calls for the world to wake up.
Iranian dissidents stranded in Camp Ashraf are faced with forcible displacement in Iraq. What choice but resisting is the world offering them? Sitting back and watching is not an option.
What you are about to read might sound farfetched or unbelievable, but it totally factual. A community of 3,400 defenceless men and women is facing annihilation by brute force in about five weeks, with all the residents being slaughtered. And as the clock ticks towards the ominous deadline of December 31, the whole international community is simply watching.
The place is Camp Ashraf, for 25 years the home in Iraq of members of the main Iranian opposition movement.
The belligerent party is the government of Iraq (yes, the very same government that the US and the UK helped to create at a huge human and material cost) that is functioning at the behest of the Iranian regime.
The 3,400 men and women residents in Camp Ashraf were there when the US-led Coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003. They stayed completely neutral. After the downfall of the Saddam Hussein government, they were protected by the US forces in return for voluntarily accepting complete disarmament. The US designated them as protected persons under the Geneva Conventions. Every one of the residents received written assurance by a US official that they would be protected until their final disposition. The US gave them its word.
But in 2009, the US handed over security of the camp to Iraqis as part of the SOFA agreement. Given the influence of the Iranian government on the Shiite government of Iraq, this was like asking the fox to protect the henhouse. Subsequently, the camp was attacked by Iraqi forces in 2009 and 2011, resulting in dozens of deaths and more than 1,000 wounded. The camp has been under siege for the past 30 months and residents don’t have access to medicine, fuel, and supplies.
What has exacerbated the predicament of Ashraf residents is that the Iraqi government vowed to close Ashraf by the end of the year. This raises the question: Where the residents are supposed to move to?
In September, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) stepped in and declared the residents as asylum seekers; it wanted to start the process of interviewing the residents and transferring them to other countries. It urged the government of Iraq to extend the deadline so it could do its work. The internationally acclaimed human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, reiterated this request in early November. But the Iraqi government has a different agenda. Reuters reported on November 22 that Iraq is refusing to allow the UN to reaffirm the refugee status of the residents in Camp Ashraf, a prerequisite to their transfer to other countries.
Iraq’s refusal to allow UNHCR refugee status determination of the residents leaves no doubt that it has no intention of resolving this crisis peacefully and is planning to carry out the mullahs’ demand that Ashraf be demolished and its residents annihilated – because Tehran knows full well that they represent its democratic and viable opposition.
Ashraf residents have shown all kinds of flexibility; they have agreed to the European Parliament’s plan to be transferred to third countries, despite their obvious right to remain in Ashraf, where they have lived for a quarter century. But they cannot allow themselves to be dispersed and forcibly displaced inside Iraq – and they surely cannot volunteer to be slaughtered. If their displacement is ordered, they will have no option but to resist. Who would agree to be forced from his home to be killed in a quite dark alley?
Time is running out for the US, UN and EU to take a stand.
They must reject the displacement ploy conjured up by Tehran’s mullahs and pushed by their facilitators in the government of Iraq. They should pressure the government of Iraq to stop obstructing the UNHCR’s endeavour and allow the interviews of Ashraf residents to begin immediately.
Slaughtering a community is not a matter that can be kept within the borders of a sovereign state. It is a serious concern for the international community, as it was evident in Libya and is currently evident in Syria.
Silence is more than tacit approval. It is being accomplice to the slaughter of thousands of decent people, whose only crime is to stand up to Tehran tyrants.
The terrifying truth is out. Now, our elected officials and international players cannot pretend that they do not know. The world should be haunted by the memory of Srebrenica. Camp Ashraf is a Srebrenica in the making and the world has a duty to act.
David Alton is an Independent Crossbench Life Peer in the House of Lords in the UK. This article has been republished with permission from his blog.