European parliamentarians issued a fresh warning Monday of a looming “humanitarian catastrophe” at an Iranian exiles’ camp in Iraq and urged the UN to provide protection for its 3,400 residents.
MEP Struan Stevenson, who heads the parliament’s delegation for relations with Iraq, said in an e-mail that 180 lawmakers from the main political groups had signed a petition urging the postponement of a December 31 deadline set by Baghdad to close the camp.
“We have only eight weeks left to make (Iraqi premier Nuri) al-Maliki see sense or I fear we will face a certain humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.
The plea came as Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in Baghdad his government was resolved to close down Camp Ashraf, northeast of the Iraqi capital, by year’s end.
“The decision will be implemented by the end of this year,” he said, speaking alongside his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi.
“There is no government that would agree to an organisation staying against its (authorities’) will, laws and sovereignty.”
Hundreds of protesters gathered in Washington and Brussels earlier this month to demand the camp’s closure be postponed to protect the thousands of Iranian dissidents who have lived there for 30 years.
The camp, which has become a mounting international problem, has been in the spotlight since an April raid by Iraqi security forces left 34 people dead and scores injured, triggering sharp condemnation.
It was set up when Iraq and Iran were at war in the 1980s by the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) and later came under US control until January 2009, when US forces transferred security for the camp to Iraq.
The PMOI has been on the US government terrorist list since 1997 but has received support from leading US figures in its battle to obtain international supervision of Camp Ashraf’s closure, which comes as US forces pull out of Iraq.
In their petition, the MEPs said the closure “could be used as a pretext for a large-scale massacre.”
The petition accused Iraqi forces of pyschological warfare on residents, threatening them day and night over 300 loudspeakers. and restricting access to fuel and medicines. It said at least 12 people had died in recent months due to an “inhuman medical blockade.”
Because the UN High Commissioner for Refugees needed more time to interview the residents to decide on their future, the MEPs said they were calling on the United States and the United Nations to force Iraq to postpone the December 31 deadline “until the transfer of all residents to third countries has been accomplished.”
They also asked for UN monitors at Ashraf “to assure and guarantee the residents’ protection until they are transfered to alternative host countries.”