Publisher: the Huffington Post, USA
Author: Abbas Rezai, Human Rights and Foreign Policy Writer
Story date: 28/11/2011
An official meeting of the EU parliamentarians last Tuesday in Brussels was a rare scene of confrontation of European lawmakers with Iraqi government diplomats which continued for some time outside the conference room after the meeting was formally ended.
The fate of 3400 Iranian dissidents including a thousand women in Iraq is increasingly uncertain as the Iraqi Embassy in Brussels last week reaffirmed its government's decision to close down their refugee camp 60 miles north east of Baghdad and force them out of Iraq by 31 December 2011.
The refugees in Camp Ashraf are members of Iran's fiercest opposition movement, the People's Mojahedin [Freedom fighters] of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
With the US invasion of Iraq, PMOI members were given written assurances in return for voluntarily disarmament, to be under US protection until their final disposition. But with change of US administration in 2009, Ashraf's security was handed over to the Iraqi forces leading to severe inhuman conditions for the residents. At the behest of Tehran, access to food, fuel and medicines was restricted. Visitors including parliamentarians and NGOs were barred from entering the Camp. Ashraf turned into a de facto prison.
In July 2009 and April 2011 the Camp was twice raided by Iraqi army. Live ammunition was used to hunt unarmed refugees. Some were crushed under Humvees and tanks, leaving 47 dead and a total of 1070 wounded.
Two days after the April attack, in a blatant effort to void international calls for independent investigation into that crime, Iraq announced its unilateral deadline to close Ashraf by end of this year.
Subsequent international efforts to register the residents as refugees and resettle them in other countries remain blocked by Iraq as it calls the refugees "terrorists" who are not entitled to registration by the UN Refugee body, a label dictated from Tehran to physically eliminate the opponents, according to international observers.
"The Iraqi Government has made efforts to cooperate with EU, USA and others to resettle the residents of the Camp," Jwan Khioka, a counsellor of Iraqi embassy in Brussels, told the meeting of the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq. "These efforts, however, did not lead to any results. Accordingly our Government was left with no choice but to evacuate the Camp based on principle of sovereignty!"
Scottish MEP Struan Stevenson, President of the delegation reacted thunderously: "This to me is tantamount to a declaration of war on what we have been standing for here in the European Parliament."
"Now that we are within one month of the deadline being reached, they have issued this ultimatum which is equal to a Death Warrant to these people!"
"I can tell you now that we are sitting here, confronting a countdown to almost a certain massacre."
Jean De Ruyt, EU High Representative's special adviser on Camp Ashraf, told the meeting that EU had tried its best to convince the Iraqi government to extend the deadline but could not do much more.
Esther de Lange, Dutch Member of European Parliament and vice president of the delegation was outraged by De Ruyt's weak remarks.
"I react pretty allergic to people, representing the European Union saying literally that they can do 'not so much' in international relations. We are the biggest donor of development aid in Iraq why do we continue to be so incredibly modest when it comes to using that economic power and putting it into political influence.
"Please let us be a bit pro-active," she told De Ruyt. "We know we cannot solve this within five week. So is the call for extending the deadline going to be the main priority of the EU in the next weeks to come?"
Alejo Vidal Quadras, who for the past 12 years has served as a senior Vice-President of the Parliament, warned of consequences of a weak policy.
"We as the European Union have moral authority, but moral authority is not useful with people who have no morals, Mr Ambassador," he said criticising De Ruyt's optimism in dealing with the Iraqi government.
"They have already assassinated 47 of them by gunshots. Shooting to defenceless people! This is enough to understand the level of cynicisms towards the Iraqi government in this question."
"A deadline is a way to say that the Iraqi government does not want a solution."
"We have been working on this problem for years. It took us nine months to make Ms Ashton to move. She only moved, after the last attack where dozens of people were assassinated."
The issue of Ashraf is on the agenda of EU's Foreign Minister Council this Thursday, 1 December. What position they take will be crucial for the fate of the 3000 refugees in Ashraf who could see their last Christmas if Iraq fulfils its commitment to Tehran to eliminate them.
Refugees Global Press Review
Compiled by Media Relations and Public Information Service, UNHCR
For UNHCR Internal Distribution