Past terrorist allegations shouldn’t deter aid: South Surrey MP

Russ Hiebert claims People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran refugees in peril at Iraq's Camp Ashraf

In 1991

An imminent human-rights crisis in Iraq has brought Surrey-White Rock’s Conservative MP Russ Hiebert together with government colleagues and opposition politicians in defending a group still classed by some as a terrorist organization.

Some 3,400 men and women of  the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), also known as Mujahedin-E Khalq (MEK), at Camp Ashraf, are under a Dec. 31 deadline to leave Iraq.

But it’s feared they face the threat of assault or death before that, in the wake of attacks from the Iraqi military in 2009 and again this year, Hiebert said this week.

Some figures say as many as 50 camp residents have died in these attacks and more than 1,000 have been injured.

“There were 36 people killed in April,”  Hiebert told Peace Arch News Thursday, acknowledging the PMOI – which has been linked to mortar attacks, bombings and assassinations of Iranian officials – has been classed, historically, as a terrorist group.

“They were defined as that in the past.”

But, he noted, “these people are unarmed and defenceless.”

Hiebert and other members of Parliament’s non-partisan Subcommittee on International Human Rights are calling for the Iraqi government to meet its obligations under international law, including extending the deadline for closure of the camp to give time for residents to seek asylum and allow the United Nations Human Rights Council time to consider and process applications.

“We also want to ensure that Camp Ashraf residents are not forcibly transferred to a country in which they face persecution,” Hiebert said at an all-party press conference Wednesday.

“Some have been in Iraq for decades,” he later told the Peace Arch News, adding that the human rights subcommittee would also like to see a United Nations resolution calling for blue-helmeted United Nations peacekeeping forces to oversee the resettlement process.

Characterized as refugees by the United Nations High Commisioner for Human Rights, the PMOI began in the 1960s as a militant leftist Iranian group opposed to the rule of the former Shah.

MP Russ HiebertFollowing Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979, group members were targeted as dissidents by the radical ruling clergy led by the Ayatollah Khomeini, and after exile in Paris, found a home in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, where they supported the country in its eight year war against Iran.

With Hussein’s support, the PMOI consolidated its position as a military organization, and performed internal security for the Iraqi regime.

But at the end of the 2003 Iraq War the group voluntarily surrendered its munitions and weapons to Coalition forces, was party to a peaceful cease-fire, and was noted for co-operating with the Coalition.

The Dec. 31 deadline for the PMOI to leave Iraq coincides with the departure of the last U.S. forces from the country.

“Witness testimony has suggested the (current) Iraqi government is not terribly concerned about their security, and also that they are under pressure from Iran to deport (the PMOI) back there,” Hiebert said Thursday.

“It also suggests that, due to their association with the previous regime, the current government feels no obligation to protect them.”

Witness testimony has also said the Iraqi military is using loudspeakers to keep people in the camp sleepless, Hiebert added.

“The message seems to be not just that they have to leave, but that they are facing their doom,” he said.

Hiebert said Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, has been working with Canadian allies to keep up diplomatic pressure on the Iraqi government to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf and has directed Canadian officials to visit the camp and monitor the situation.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has also been raising Canada’s concerns with both the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and a senior Iraqi cabinet member.

Hiebert said the pressure Canada and other countries can bring to bear on the Iraqi government is “substantial – if we’re united in our message.”

“Other governments are concerned about what Canada thinks  – there’s no doubt about that – and we’re not alone in this. We’re calling on the governments of other countries to join us in asking for an extended deadline.”

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