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Legal Representative meets with UNHCR in Tirana to clarify the status of MEK defectors

On October 9, 2017 an Albanian lawyer and a representative of some defectors from the Mojahedin Khalq organization (MEK) met with officials of the UNHCR in Tirana, Albania. The meeting had been requested on 27 September by the lawyer acting on behalf of two defectors from the MEK who want to know what their future relation with their UNHCR will be.

The lawyer and one MEK defector were received at the offices of the UNHCR in Tirana by H. Balla from the Office of Legal Protection, and H. Khan who is responsible for the MEK members in Albania.

The lawyer acting on behalf of her clients demanded explanations from UNHCR officials regarding the status of her clients in Albania, their economic difficulties and their legal status.

During the discussions H. Khan, who was responsible for the re-settlement of MEK members from Iraq in Albania, clarified a number of items for the lawyer. He explained that the UNHCR had helped the MEK to relocate to Albania to save them from the threats they were receiving in Iraq. The UNHCR had been paying MEK members in Iraq but now that they had settled in Albania they were no longer the responsibility of the UNHCR. Contrary to the claims of MEK defectors that the UNHCR pays 500 EUROs monthly to MEK members, the UNHCR representative explained that the UNHCR no longer pays any money to the MEK for its members. He said that the MEK has its own budget. It has an agreement with the Albanian state and it is responsible for paying its members and defectors alike, since this was one of the points of the understanding that the MEK, the Americans and the Albanian state had agreed once they were transferred to Albania.

The UNHCR for its part was trying to help MEK members to integrate into Albanian society by providing training for them and through an agreement that it had with an Albanian NGO, the Refugee and Migrant Services (RMSA), which was helping MEK members with their social needs.

During the discussions, the MEK defector complained to the UNHCR about the way the MEK was blackmailing its members in Albania, enslaving them, using psychological threats and blackmail and threatening them with slander. The defector described the spying network that the MEK has created against its own members who are deserting the organization en-mass. He complained that the MEK was keeping its members totally isolated, prohibiting them from talking to their families in Iran and throughout the world, and if one member is caught talking to his family or to another defector he is immediately expelled from the organization and is accused of being an agent of Iran.

The defector revealed how the MEK had enslaved many of its members for the past 30 years, and now that they were living in a democratic country like Albania, this organization was still blackmailing them, keeping them isolated and not allowing them to enjoy the freedoms of democracy and civic life.

The lawyer told the UNHCR officials that these claims have been presented to her by many other defectors who live in a state of fear and intimidation from this organization, which claims that it will bring democracy to Iran. She asked the UNHCR representatives if they were aware that the MEK was intimidating and threatening even the families of MEK members who have come to Albania to meet their loved ones. She disclosed to UNHCR representatives that in a number of cases, family members of MEK members had been detained and threatened even by the Albanian police whenever they had come to Albania and tried to contact their relatives.

The lawyer asked how can this organization speak of democracy when it treats its members in such an inhumane way, which is a criminal offense according to Albanian laws? She asked the UNHCR about its stance towards these criminal allegations that defectors are making against this totalitarian organization which claims to fight for democracy and human rights? How could the UNHCR work with and support such a totalitarian and enslaving organization? They asked UNHCR staff if they were aware that this organization is acting against human rights conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that Albania has signed, and was denying its members freedom of thought, freedom to create a family, freedom of movement, freedom of association and was treating many of its members as slaves.

Furthermore, the lawyer asked why the UNHCR does not support the MEK defectors, who after leaving the organization end up in the street and without any support? By not supporting these people who want to enjoy their personal freedoms that democracy guarantees, the UNHCR was not helping these people who deserve to live in freedom in a democracy.

The UNHCR representatives responded that the behavior of the MEK towards its members has to be judged by the Albanian government and within the framework of the agreement it has with the MEK. The lawyer pointed out that this agreement has not been made public or submitted to scrutiny and so nobody knows what has actually been agreed. What was clear is that as the situation stands at present this agreement is in contravention of UNHCR rules and human rights legislation because clearly neither the MEK members nor the defectors and nor their families are not being accorded their proper civil or human rights.

When the lawyer asked about their legal status and what the UNHCR is contributing towards this issue – since many of them have no work permits and their legal status is described as humanitarian refugees – the UNHCR responded that they are working with the Albanian government to clarify their status.

They suggested that the lawyer acting on their behalf must contact the Interior Ministry of Albania since this body is responsible for their residence in the country.

The lawyer asked the UNHCR representatives whether they do pay some MEK members. The UNHCR representatives said that yes, they do pay some members, on a case by case basis, but not everyone. They were paying the accommodation of M. A. a defector who was in a desperate situation.

The MEK defector who was in the meeting said that the help M. A. was receiving was minimal. He was able only to buy just few kilograms of oil, flour and sugar to eat for a whole month.

The legal representative of the UNHCR admitted that support for the MEK members in Albania was a big problem. He said that even the Albanian government will not support the refugees for more than six months. The government gives them accommodation, food and after six months they are on their own.

But the difficult case of MEK members was exacerbated since they were taken to Albania on a humanitarian basis and not as asylum seekers. They have no work permits and cannot integrate into the society.

The defector claimed that the UNHCR had in the past paid MEK members 500 EUROs per month in their accounts. However, H. Khan explained that this was no longer the case. The UNHCR had given financial support to MEK members in 2016 but now it has run out of money. He said that the support of MEK members and defectors was the duty of the MEK which brought them into the country and the Albanian government who agreed to host the Mojahedin.

The defector said that the Albanian office of asylum had told MEK members that in 2018 some humanitarian organization might take over the financial care of MEK members in Albania. But the situation of the defectors remains unclear and this means that many MEK defectors will continue to suffer and struggle for their economic survival in Albania.

The defector explained that many families of MEK members want to contact their loved ones in the MEK so that they can provide them with support and assistance. But the MEK’s refusal to allow this contact and the Albanian government’s compliance with this ban means they are forced to remain with the MEK or become destitute. This was not an acceptable situation when many people could be helped by their own families and not depend on handouts from any organization.

The conclusion of this meeting was that many MEK members who want to defect from this ex-terrorist organization, who do not want to be considered as combatants and want instead to live in freedom and liberty have no option but to stay with the organization. If they choose to leave the MEK and enjoy the freedoms and democracy of Albania, to marry, have children and create families like all other free human beings, they will suffer economic hardship and blackmail from the MEK whose spies monitor and intimidate the defectors. They will be accused by the MEK of being Iran’s agents and no one will help them. They do not speak Albanian, have no skills, the vast majority has no work permits and cannot find jobs in impoverished Albania. They have no passports and no possibility to settle in other richer countries in Europe. The only option that many MEK members have is to stick it out with the MEK in its camps in Albania. They must live an isolated life in which they are also thereby forced to agree to call for waging a terrorist war against Iran.

At the end of the meeting the UNHCR advised the lawyer and her clients to contact the Albanian office for asylum to clarify their status and situation. It was also suggested that the MEK should be taken to court and asked to pay for the defectors since the MEK had undertaken responsibility for their financial support after their transfer to Albania.

By Av. M.B., Lawyer

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