December 15, 2017

UN urged to act over ‘callous’ treatment of Ashraf refugees


The UN must end the intolerable situation endured by the Iranian democratic opposition held in Iraqi camps, and Hillary Clinton should remove the group from the US terror list – writes MEP

Last week more than 220 of my colleagues in the European Parliament supported a joint statement regarding members of the main Iranian democratic opposition, the PMOI-MEK, who are refugees living in camps Ashraf and Liberty in Iraq. The declaration urges “the United Nations, United States and the European Union to act immediately to compel Iraq to stop imposing callous restrictions on the residents”. This is an important act of solidarity involving MEPs from all nations and all political groups and it must not be ignored.

In particular MEPs were critical of the designation of Camp Liberty as a Temporary Transit Location by Iraq and the UN special envoy Martin Kobler. “All indications point to the fact that people will have to stay in Camp Liberty for several years; therefore, calling Liberty a TTL – designated for a stay of a maximum of a few weeks, is erroneous,” said the statement, which stressed: “The UN and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees must recognise Camp Liberty as a refugee camp under international protection.”

This statement comes immediately in the wake of an historical and unprecedented decision by the US Federal Court of Appeal, which on Friday, June 1 ordered the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make a decision on the designation of the PMOI on the US blacklist within the next four months; otherwise the court would remove its listing as a foreign terrorist organisation. The blacklisting of the PMOI has been a dedicated Clinton project from day one. It was President Bill Clinton who first listed the PMOI as an act of appeasement to the mullahs in Iran. Sadly, once endorsed by the Clinton administration it became like the word of God, unchallengeable and accepted as Holy Writ by legions of eager young State Department suits. In due course it found its way across the Atlantic and the PMOI was duly blacklisted in the United Kingdom and then, at the behest of Tony Blair’s government, was added to the terror list for the whole of the EU.

It took many court battles, a great deal of time and resources to stand up for justice and demand the de-listing of the PMOI. When the whole house of cards began to collapse, the vacuous nature of the dossier was exposed to the world. The British judges even called it “perverse” and ordered parliament to strike the PMOI from the UK terror list. The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg was forced to follow suit. Only the US State Department dug in its heels, stubbornly refusing to budge and ignoring demands from its own courts.

Their intransigence has come at a high price. It has given the Iraqi government the excuse to mount violent assaults on innocent unarmed supporters of the PMOI in Camp Ashraf on two occasions, murdering 47 and seriously injuring hundreds. It has enabled the Iraqi authorities, pushed and cajoled by their sponsors in Tehran, to psychologically torture and bully the 3,300 men and women in Ashraf and to pressurise them into moving to a new location, Camp Liberty next to Baghdad airport. More than 2,000 PMOI refugees are now crushed into an area measuring less than half a square kilometre, with dilapidated sewage systems, broken air conditioners, no facilities for the disabled and inadequate supplies of water.

On behalf of the UN, Martin Kobler signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Iraqi government without the approval of the Ashraf residents. The terms of the MoU have been repeatedly breached. When complaints are made on a daily basis to the UN observers, they are told to take up their complaints with the Iraqi government. The Iraqi Government treats all such complaints with open contempt. In fact, in their most blatant act of intimidation to date, they have now appointed Captain Ahmad Khazir to take charge of the Camp Liberty guards. He was one of the leading perpetrators of the Ashraf massacre of July 2009. He has now started blocking the daily passage of Liberty residents who must travel outside the camp to be interviewed by the UNHCR. He has even started blocking the entrance of water tankers to Camp Liberty.

This situation is intolerable. The good name of the UN is being besmirched by their association with and apparent indifference to such blatant ill treatment and repression. They must declare Camp Liberty as a long-term refugee facility and not a TTL and they must then insist on the full humanitarian provisions appropriate to a refugee camp. They must demand the removal of the likes of Captain Ahmad from the camp. They must speed up the process of refugee registration by UNHCR and move quickly to evacuate these people to friendly third countries.

Hillary Clinton should remove the PMOI/NCRI from the US terror list immediately, while she still has a chance to do so with some vestige of honour. She will face complete humiliation if she waits for the Federal Court of Appeal to do it for her. Their removal from the blacklist would send the strongest signal yet to the UN, the EU and the Iraqi government, that these people are innocent, refugees and must be treated with humanity and respect.

Struan Stevenson MEP is president of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with Iraq

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