Do you know what is happening in Camp Ashraf?
Probably not. Yet there are 3,400 refugees in Camp Ashraf in Iraq. Not only are they being subjected to psychological intimidation but last Friday they were attacked by Iraqi Special Forces and Iranian agents. Many hundreds, including women and girls, have been injured, some seriously. To add insult to injury, they have been turned away from the hospital and denied treatment.
Since the US withdrawal, the humanitarian situation has been deteriorating and is currently pretty bleak, as recently reported by the BBC.
Camp Ashraf, 60 kilometres north of Baghdad, is home to members and supporters of Iranian opposition group the People’s Mojaheddin Organization of Iran (PMOI), which is banned in Iran. Ashraf, which has developed from a refugee camp into a fine university city, has come to represent a bastion of democracy and human rights to Iranians in exile abroad and for those continuing to suffer under the repressive regime of the mullahs.
It seems obvious that the mullahs are angered by the continuing presence of this strong opposition party in neighbouring Iraq and by the Spanish central court ruling that Iraq has a case to answer in connection with the killing of 11 residents in Camp Ashraf in July 2009. The Iranian regime wants the opposition to be driven out of Ashraf, and Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki is complying. Since mid-2008 the Iraqi government has repeatedly indicated that it wants to close Camp Ashraf, and that its residents should leave Iraq or face being forcibly expelled. Support by the Iranian regime for Nouri al-Maliki relies heavily on his carrying out demands for the suppression of Ashraf and for the refugees to be evicted.
Camp Ashraf was held under US control from April 2003 until mid-2009 when the Iraqi government took charge of it. Despite being recognized in July 2004 by the Multi-National Force-Iraq and the International Committee of the Red Cross as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Ashraf citizens are now coming under sustained attack. In 2009 Iraqi forces, acting as the proxies of the Iranian government, forcibly entered the city, terrorizing women and children, injuring many, and killing 11. Around 36 residents were detained without trial and tortured and beaten before eventually being released following an international outcry.
Conditions in Ashraf have worsened since the US withdrawal, despite assurances from the Iraqi government. Since the transfer to Iraqi control, residents needing medical care have found it extremely difficult to gain access to medical treatment in or outside the camp because the camp is surrounded by Iraqi security forces. In December Amnesty International appealed for action after receiving reports of medical restrictions being imposed on residents by the Iraqi authorities. Pressure to prevent essential supplies from entering the city has been part of the campaign of intimidation and harassment. Recently, residents have been subjected to psychological attacks from loudspeakers set up around the camp relaying threatening messages, even opposite the hospital,where there are seriously and terminally ill patients.
In November 2010 the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom of cross-party MPs and peers called on Britain, the US and EU to urgently request a permanent UN monitoring outpost at Ashraf to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.
Five thousand mayors in France have also united in support of Ashraf by embracing Ashraf as a sister city and urging their colleagues to post banners in city halls throughout France in solidarity with Ashraf. The European Parliament has called on the UN to provide urgent protection to Ashraf. And former mayor of New York, Rudi Giuliani, also declared his commitment to Ashraf and the movement for Peace and Democracy at a conference in Paris in December.
However, despite this apparent show of international support, the siege of Ashraf continues unabated. Without pressure on the Iraqi authorities a humanitarian tragedy is inevitable.
Joan Stewart is a New Internationalist reader.