February 19, 2018

Iranian Dissidents Must Not Be Sent To A Concentration Camp


The Iranian Dissidents living in Camp Ashraf in Iraq are to be relocated to a new camp near the Baghdad airport. The matter has been a shock and badly troubling for the 3300 persons living in the camp, for the simple reason that they are being forced to leave the place they have lived in for more than 20 years. Furthermore, the information received about the new camp, where the Iranian civilians are to be relocated to, seems to be changing and becoming more disturbing everyday.

The residents were first told that the new location, Camp Liberty, which used to be a base for American soldiers, had the advantage of being large enough to locate the 3400 dissidents. This was despite the fact that the base was a desert-like place hardly suitable for men and women civilians. This information however, was soon proved to be wrong and the Iraqi government decided to force the men and women in the camp to much smaller place. The first information was that the camp was of an area of 40 sq km. However, they were later told that only 0.6 sq km of the new camp will be available to them and four meter walls will be put around the camp. No-one would be allowed to leave or enter the camp either. This no doubt reminds everyone of the concentration camps used by the Nazi regime for its opponents.

Looking at the history of the term concentration camp, one cannot help noticing the resemblances which exist.  At the time, Hitler ordered to have his opponents physically concentrated in one place, and that is where the word concentration camp came from. One can also read in the history books that the term concentration camp referred to a camp in which people were detained or confined, usually under harsh conditions and without regard to legal norms of arrest and imprisonment that are acceptable in a constitutional democracy.

Sadly, these are the very conditions that the Iranian dissidents have been subjected to and the conditions have continuously become worse during the past year. The residents in Camp Ashraf are in fact intellectuals who have decided to stand up against the fundamentalist regime in Iran and demand democracy and freedom. But the fact is that they are receiving a harsh treatment from the international institutions, which are supposed to defend their rights. 

We know today that the 3300 exiles would only be permitted to occupy a tiny corner of Camp Liberty, barely quarter of a mile square, which had been completely looted, was without running water and around which the Iraqis were erecting a 15ft concrete wall. Far from being offered a safe haven, it seemed, they were to await their fate crammed into what the European Council last week denounced as “a prison”, watched inside and out by armed Iraqi and Iranian guards.
  Worst of all is that the UN representative, who is following the events on behalf of the United Nations Secretary General, is not helping the matter either.  The happenings are indeed outrageous and cannot be accepted in the 21st century. As many humanitarian figures, including the archbishop of Wales have re-iterated: “This is totally unacceptable. How could 3,400 people, including 1,000 women, be located in such a small area?”

The new camp is about 40 times smaller that the area that the dissidents have lived in up until now, and the issue has thus become one that can easily lead to another act of genocide.

Kambiz Assai is a former political prisoner and a human rights activist in the UK.