Camp Ashraf refugees get all-party support

Government and opposition MPs concerned for the safety of 3,400 refugees — predominantly Iranians — facing expulsion from Iraq's Camp Ashraf have joined forces to call for assistance from Canadian allies.

MPs say Iraq's Camp Ashraf residents have been 'indiscriminately massacred'

In this Friday, April 8, 2011 file photo, Iraqi army soldiers stand guard near burned trailers at Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad, Iraq. Canadian government and opposition MPs are joining forces to call for assistance for 3,400 refugees at the camp who are facing expulsion by Dec. 31, 2011. (Karim Kadim/Associated Press)

Government and opposition MPs concerned for the safety of 3,400 refugees —  predominantly Iranians — facing expulsion from Iraq's Camp Ashraf have joined forces to call for assistance from Canadian allies.

Residents are mostly members of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq of Iran, which is listed as a terrorist organization in Canada and the U.S. The group opposes the current regime in Iran.

After a deadly raid on the camp last spring, supporters fear for the safety of residents if they are forced to leave the camp. The Iraqi government wants the refugees out by Dec. 31, and its officials say they want the UN to repatriate the residents.

There are two Canadian citizens living at the camp. Nine other Canadians have left the camp.

A House subcommittee on human rights has been studying the situation at Camp Ashraf, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler said Wednesday morning.

"We have held a series of meetings, heard chilling testimony about the situation and dangers facing the residents in Camp Ashraf," Cotler said.

Subcommittee members say the residents are unarmed, defenceless, and characterized as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

"The citizens of Camp Ashraf have faced ongoing harassment and intimidation by the Iraqi and Iranian governments, and twice this year alone residents of the camp have been indiscriminately massacred," the subcommittee said in a news release.

Canadians to visit camp Wednesday

Conservative MP Russ Hiebert says he has met with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird about the issue, and says Baird has been working with Canadian allies "to pressure the Iraqi government to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf."

Hiebert says Baird is sending Canadian officials to visit the camp on Wednesday to monitor the situation, and that Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney met with UN and Iraqi officials in Geneva.

Lois Brown, parliamentary secretary to the minister of international co-operation, says Canada is deeply concerned about the safety of men and women living in the camp.

"We also call on Iraq to meet its obligations under international law and ensure that Camp Ashraf residents are not forcibly transferred to another country where they could suffer," she said.

The subcommittee passed a motion calling for Iraq to allow international observers into the camp and to extend the deadline. They're also asking the Canadian government to push for a UN Security Council resolution to put a protective force at the camp.

"The reason that we’re gathered here from every party in the House is because we are all seized with the urgency of avoiding a possible catastrophe," Hiebert said, calling it a precarious situation.

"Right now the lives of 3,400 people are at serious risk."

The deadline must be extended to give the UN High Commissioner for Refugees more time to evaluate individual refugee eligibility, he said.

The MPs are also concerned the residents of Camp Ashraf could be forcibly transferred to countries where they may face persecution.

NDP MP Wayne Marston says the humanitarian need on the ground is self-evident.

"There’s just over 3,000 people at significant and immediate risk at this time."