Camp Ashraf, 80 km north-east of Baghdad, is home to over 3,000 Iranian nationals who belong to the People’s Mujaheddin Organization of Iran. In recent months, the Iraqi authorities have repeatedly said that they intend to close the camp at the end of 2011. Beat Schweizer, head of the ICRC delegation in Iraq, explains the ICRC’s role and response.
The Iraqi authorities have said they will close the camp at the end of 2011. What is the ICRC’s view on this?
The ICRC welcomes the Iraqi authorities’ commitment not to transfer Camp Ashraf residents to Iran against their will, and will continue to monitor the situation, to ensure that the Iraqi authorities fulfil this commitment. The ICRC will also continue to insist that the authorities meet their obligation to preserve the dignity, physical well-being and mental well-being of the camp’s residents. While it is true that the residents of camp Ashraf must comply with Iraqi laws and regulations, it is also true that the Iraqi authorities must ensure respect for these people’s fundamental rights, just as they would for anyone else on Iraqi territory. Furthermore, the Iraqi authorities must ensure that the residents of Camp Ashraf have access to such basic services as food, water and medical care, under all circumstances.
I must emphasize that the ICRC is not part of any mechanism to close down the camp or transfer its residents, and we are not going to be.
What will the ICRC do if force is used to transfer Camp Ashraf’s residents?
The ICRC will continue to call on all concerned to exercise restraint and to comply with applicable law. One legal requirement is that any use of force be in accordance with internationally-recognised principles governing law-enforcement operations. And respect for human dignity must be maintained whatever happens.
What will the ICRC do if residents are arrested?
The ICRC is prepared to visit anyone from Camp Ashraf whom the Iraqi authorities may detain. We would assess their conditions of detention and treatment, and would help them restore contact with their relatives, through Red Cross messages for instance. The ICRC is already making regular visits to detainees in Iraq, and we would assist any detained persons from Ashraf Camp in the same way.
In 2009, the ICRC visited 36 Ashraf residents detained by the Iraqi authorities. In April 2011, the ICRC visited six people arrested in relation with clashes between Iraqi security forces and residents of the camp. The authorities released those six people shortly after detaining them.
What is the ICRC doing for residents of Camp Ashraf who are seeking asylum and want to be resettled in a third country?
We have been facilitating the repatriation of former residents of Camp Ashraf who wish to go back to Iran. Since 2003, the ICRC has arranged for the repatriation of over 250 Camp Ashraf residents to their home country, in cooperation with its delegation in Tehran. The ICRC has helped repatriate seven former residents in 2011 so far, with the most recent repatriation taking place in August.
The ICRC is prepared to continue helping repatriate residents of Camp Ashraf to Iran at the request of the people concerned, with their full consent, and in agreement with both the Iraqi and the Iranian authorities. If residents of the camp want to seek asylum or resettlement in a third country, the ICRC will refer them to UNHCR. We may offer direct help in certain cases, for instance by issuing travel documents once the authorities of a particular country have agreed to take a person. The ICRC can also facilitate contact with relatives abroad.
What was the ICRC’s response to last April’s clashes between Iraqi forces and residents of the camp?
The ICRC maintained constant dialogue with the Iraqi authorities, in an effort to ensure that the use of force by law-enforcement personnel conformed to the standards that govern law-enforcement operations. We also dispatched kits of dressing material to Baquba Hospital, where casualties obtained treatment, and visited six residents arrested by the Iraqi authorities during the clashes.
What is the current situation in Camp Ashraf?
The ICRC has not made any visits to Camp Ashraf recently. The situation there is being monitored by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq.
The ICRC remains committed to providing independent, humanitarian assistance to the residents and their families. While we have no precise figures, the population of the camp is estimated at over 3,200.