Is Camp Liberty An Inhumane and Indecent Place for Ashraf Residents?


The subject of transfer of 3,400 members of the Iranian opposition (MEK) from Camp Ashraf north of Baghdad, their dwelling as refugees of 25 years, to another location called Camp “Liberty” has raised much international concern for a probable humanitarian tragedy.

What worries the international community which includes US Congress, European parliamentarians, senior former officials of Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, as well as human rights organizations, are the ominous conspiracies of the mullahs of Tehran in this relocation with the aim of annihilating their opposition.

In two deadly attacks in July 2009 and April 8, 2011 by Iraqi armed forces under the command of Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki who is extremely close to the Iranian regime, forty-seven defenseless residents, including eight women, were killed in Camp Ashraf and over 1,000 were wounded. The former New York city Mayor Giuliani, speaking to a conference in Paris on 24 March 2012, stated: “We are aware of what happened to the people in Camp Ashraf in 2009 and in 2011, where Maliki, doing the bidding of the Iranian government, had them killed. We have grave fears that somehow that may happen again and we have grave fears that this is not a decent, legitimate attempt to relocate people.”

After three years of cruel pressures, an inhumane and thorough siege which includes logistical needs and medical services, and the massacres perpetrated by Maliki’s government, finally, contrary to their will and only to bring about a peaceful solution to the issue of Camp Ashraf, its residents acquiesced to begin a UNHCR process for reconfirmation of their refugee status and subsequent relocation to third countries. In this plan that is proposed by the European Parliament, Ashraf residents are to be relocated to EU member states or to northern America.

However, through incessant stonewalling, Maliki’s government postponed this process for six months and preconditioned the initiation of the UNHCR work to the relocation of all residents to another camp called “Liberty” which it had taken over from the US forces and turned beforehand into a prison for Ashraf residents. At that same conference Mayor Giuliani added: “I believe that Camp Liberty is an inhumane and indecent place. I don’t believe it’s a detention facility at all.

I think it’s a prison camp. The amount of space that’s being given to the people there is a couple of feet per person, well below the minimums for American prisons.” Michael Mukasey, former US Attorney General, speaking on Iran and the Iranian opposition at the same event in Paris said: “We’ve had 1,200 people transfer to Camp Liberty. And we’re told each time, notwithstanding the completely inadequate conditions at Camp Liberty, that this is progress.

We’re making progress. People are moving out of Ashraf into Camp Liberty and this is progress… I had an uncle once who died of progress. He was – it’s true, he was in the hospital. And every day the doctor came and checked on him and said he was showing progress, until one day he was dead. And the family concluded he must have died of progress. Ambassador [Martin] Kobler reminds me of that doctor!”

Despite numerous requests by Ashraf residents for minimum guarantees in a refugee camp, accorded by international standards, and the cessation of activities in turning the camp into a prison, no effective measures have been undertaken by UNAMI and the US, who are parties responsible for the case of Ashraf residents.

Failing to respond to these requests, including removal of armed Iraqi forces from inside the camp; resolving the water and electricity shortages, especially with the Iraqi summer on the way; building the necessary facilities for offering services to the residents in Liberty, especially for the sick and the disabled; has aggravated concerns and mired the process to relocate Ashraf residents to third countries. In the Paris conference, Tom Ridge, the first US Secretary of Homeland Security, referred to the conditions in Camp Liberty prior to the transfer of the first group of residents there saying: “I’m not willing to say they [UN] misrepresented but it sure looks that way to me when you show a picture of one camp in perfectly fine condition and you assert that there were 5,500 American troops living there, it’s just fine, you can move in.

It will be a slight downgrade from Camp Ashraf but all the amenities do exist and are there. And then you go and there’s no water, there’s no electricity, the septic is a mess, you got police roaming all over the place.

You have not done your job United Nations, and it’s about time you did!” Contrary to claims made by the Shelter expert from UNAMI who had confirmed conformity of Camp Liberty’s infrastructure to international standards, this camp lacks the minimum requirements for the dwelling of 3,400 residents from Ashraf. Water is not connected to Baghdad’s water pipeline forcing residents in Liberty to bring water from twelve kilometers out using water tankers.

The shortage of water would become acute during the hot summer days ahead. Moreover, all electricity in the camp is provided by worn out electric generators left behind by US forces that even lack spare parts and are not be capable of providing the electricity needed by Camp Liberty residents.

The sick, the disabled, and the wounded residents of the previous bloody attacks by Iraqi forces on Camp Ashraf would not only suffer from shortages of water and electricity, but, left without suitable facilities, gravel covered pathways, and prohibition of freedom of movement to outside of the camp, would certainly face extreme and inhumane hardship. Given the lack of minimum necessities which are but part of the residents’ problems, international and humanitarian concerns are raised in view of refugee rights.

The continuation of the peaceful process to relocate Ashraf residents to third countries and avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe in Camp Liberty can only be realized with urgent and effective action on the part of US and UNAMI. Conditions are such that even on 3 March 2012, Ashraf residents declared their preparedness to move to a temporary location on the Jordanian border by the end of March at their own expense under the supervision of ICRC and UNHCR; hence, leaving Iraq before the end of April deadline.

The lives of these Iranian refugees are constantly and seriously threatened by the Iraqi forces and the Iranian regime’s terrorist Quds Force. Resolving the present problems and the providing the minimum humanitarian and human rights needs according to international standards before the relocation of the fourth group of Ashraf residents to Camp Liberty is an imperative.

Shahriar Kia is a political analyst and human rights activist who is a member of Iranian opposition, PMOI. He graduated from Texas State University, USA. Connect with him on Twitter.