Archbishop urges action for Ashraf

Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan has made a direct appeal to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to prevent the killing of thousands of Iranian dissidents in Iraq.

The Anglican leader fears 3,400 lives are in danger because of the Iraqi government’s plans to close down Camp Ashraf, where opponents of the Iranian regime have sheltered since 1986.The Iraqi Government wants the dissidents to be relocated at an abandoned US military base but Iranian exiles are concerned this will become a prison and expose them to new dangers.

The Archbishop also fears the residents will be a victim of a “murderous assault”, and his plea for action is backed by the Archbishop of Armagh, the Primate of All Ireland, and 15 other bishops.Camp Ashraf is home to members of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran, as well as relatives and supporters.

The group is viewed with suspicion by many in Iraq because it was backed by former leader Saddam Hussein. However, it has won widespread international backing because of its commitment to a “secular, democratic and non-nuclear” Iran.In a letter to the High Commissioner, Antonio Guterres, Dr Morgan writes: “The Iraqi government has twice attacked and massacred more than 50 civilians of Ashraf on April 8, 2012, and July 28, 2009, including eight women. The video clips showing these killings are indeed shocking.

“For the last three years, the residents of Ashraf have been under an inhumane siege including a medical siege. Many have died as a result of their injuries and lack of any medical help.“Several cancer patients have lost their lives because of the medical ban and preventing them from visiting doctors and receiving medical treatment. It is the responsibility of the UN to protect these defenceless people and help them with their safe transfer to safe western countries.”

The archbishop claims the residents were told the new location, Camp Liberty, was a 40 sq km area but they have since learned only 0.6 sq km will be available.He writes: “This is totally unacceptable. How could 3,400 people, including 1,000 women, be located in such a small area?

“The numerous calls by the residents to send a small team of their engineers to inspect the new location have been ignored. The residents are prevented to take any of their belongings and vehicles to the new location. The Iraqi government has made up to four metre tall concrete walls around this small area and has practically made it into a prison.

“In addition, the whole area has been looted and there are no proper toilets and other facilities for the residents and the list goes on.“We are aware that at least 1,000 refugees of Ashraf are former political prisoners who have spent years in prison under torture.“We are also aware that Iran wants to annihilate Ashraf and its residents as they are Iran’s main opposition and inspire millions of people in Iran who cry freedom.

“The Iranian regime is using its proxies in the Iraqi government to carry out this plan with the collaboration of various UN agencies. We call on you not to allow this to happen.”He concludes: “The best course of action is for the UNHCR to declare the Ashraf residents as refugees prima facia and to declare the Camp Ashraf itself as a refugee camp.”A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We remain concerned at the humanitarian situation in Camp Ashraf.

“We welcomed the Government of Iraq’s flexibility over its end of year deadline to close Camp Ashraf and to engage with the UN mission in Iraq on a proposal to voluntarily relocate some residents of Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty, a former US military facility near Baghdad International Airport.

“This would facilitate the assessment of applications for refugee status by the UNHCR.“We understand the Government of Iraq is working to bring facilities at Camp Liberty up to standard to allow the relocation to take place.“We continue to encourage all parties to engage constructively to find a durable and peaceful solution to the future of Camp Ashraf.”

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