Last updated: 26 July, 2012

UN refugee agency calls for patience in Iraqi camp dispute

The UN refugee agency called Thursday for “cooperation, patience and understanding” in a dispute involving Iranian exiles at a camp in Iraq who refuse to leave for a new transit centre.

“Protection and solutions for some 3,200 current and former residents of the camp are the primary objectives of efforts led by the United Nations to close the camp peacefully and resolve the situation of its residents,” the UNHCR said in a statement.

So far, around 1,900 inhabitants have moved from camp New Iraq (formerly Ashraf camp) to the new Hurriya (Liberty) transit centre near Baghdad, but the transfers stopped on May 5.

About 1,200 members of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran refuse to leave New Iraq camp, despite a UN-brokered accord with Iraq to leave as a first step toward finding homes in other countries.

The group, which has been on the US terror blacklist since 1997, says it has renounced violence and has asked Washington to remove it from its list of terrorist organisations.

Opposed to the regime in Tehran, the Iranian camp residents cite inhuman conditions at Hurriya and broken promises on the part of the Iraqi government with regards to its quality.

The UN agency, which assesses the protection needs of those in the camps, called on the Iraqi government to continue to offer resettlement solutions to those in need, “consistent with its long-standing tradition of generosity and hospitality”.

The agency’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller, also said that Iraq should “assist people to stay safely and decently until such solutions can be materialized”.

The camp has been in existence since the mid-80s and most of its residents are of Iranian origin, the UNHCR says.

Earlier this month, the US government said the Iranian exiles must leave the camp if they are to be removed from Washington’s terror blacklist.

The UNHCR appeal follows the presentation on Tuesday of a UN roadmap to the Iraqi government and Ashraf residents to resolve the dispute.

The roadmap addressed issues such as water and power supply and other humanitarian needs, without giving further details.

The People’s Mujahedeen was founded in the 1960s to oppose the Shah of Iran, but took up arms against the country’s new clerical rulers after the Islamic revolution of 1979.