My Lords, we encourage the Iraqi authorities and the Camp Ashraf leadership to find a lasting and acceptable solution for the future of the residents. We have relayed this message to the Iraqi Government at the highest levels, including to the Iraqi Prime Minister. Camp Ashraf is in a sovereign and democratic Iraq and, ultimately, decisions on the future location of the camp are for the Iraqi Government to resolve.
Will my noble friend confirm that the United Kingdom supports the views of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, the ICRC and the UNHCR that it would further breach international humanitarian law if Iraq carried out its threat to again use violent force against defenceless Iranian refugees at Ashraf, so adding to the toll of 11 dead and hundreds injured in its July assault? Will the Government join efforts to persuade Iraq to accept a UN monitoring force at Ashraf to help talks between Iraq and the residents on their future to continue in a calm atmosphere?
My Lords, in light of the tragic deaths of 11 people and many others injured at Camp Ashraf on 20 July, the Government have raised the issue with the Iraqi Government seeking a review of the event. We also raised the question of a UN presence in the camp. That was acceded to in discussions between the PMOI and the Government of Iraq and is now established, with a mission that is monitoring human rights and the humanitarian situation at Camp Ashraf, liaising with American and Iraqi counterparts as well as with the PMOI, regularly reporting on the situation to the SRSG and the OHCHR in Geneva, and assessing the possibilities and the presence of enabling conditions by the GoI—the Government of Iraq—for a later deployment of UNHCR staff and other actions as required.
Perhaps the noble Lord can help on this. Did Her Majesty’s Government make representations to the Iraqi authorities about the blockade of Ashraf, subsequent to the attack in July, and about the outrageous situation in which the authorities prevented even doctors from entering the camp to look after people who had been injured in the attack, or are Her Majesty’s Government washing their hands of the whole matter and saying that they no longer have any real responsibility for the people of Ashraf as protected persons under the Geneva conventions? If it is the view of Her Majesty’s Government that they have no responsibility in that regard, how did they come to that conclusion?
I refer the noble Lord to an answer that I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Eden of Winton, when I dealt with the whole question of the immunities that people believe exist but which do not exist in relation to Camp Ashraf. It is in sovereign Iraqi territory—a democratic state. On the other hand, we do not resile at all from trying to ensure that humanitarian conditions exist and that assurances are kept that no one will be transferred from that camp to a country in which their lives are in danger. In that sense, we are clear about the issue. We are less clear about accusations, for which we have no independent authoritative evidence from the UN or anywhere else, that people are being prevented from having medicines and other things. If there is any hard evidence, I would be more than delighted to refer it to my Foreign Office colleagues for investigation.
Why is no European nation, or North America, willing to accept any of the residents of Camp Ashraf? May it have something to do with their previous activities? Is the Minister absolutely determined either to prove that the Camp Ashraf residents cannot return to the Islamic Republic of Iran or to press European nations to bring them out? What responsibility do the Iraqi Government have to keep these former enemies of the Iraqi people?
The noble Baroness raises a question that has undoubtedly been the subject of considerable discussion in Iraq. People in the camp probably find no favour in the country from which they came and little favour in the country of their adoption, given their previous adherence to the regime that has now been removed. The short answer is that no one outside the country seems to show any great enthusiasm for bringing in people in Camp Ashraf. Many of them may be innocent, but there are people in that camp with a clear history of attacks in Iran—attacks which they may have now abandoned—that makes them unpopular in that country and of support for a dictator that makes them equally unpopular in Iraq.
My Lords, is my noble friend not aware that these people have protected person status under United Nations law? That being so, would it not be possible to persuade EU countries to provide these people with refuge? These are genuine refugees who deserve protection.
Alas, it is not the case that people in Camp Ashraf have protected person status under the Fourth Geneva Convention. That has ceased to apply. That view is shared by the United Nations, the Government of Iraq, the United States and us. It is a mistake to believe that there is international protection for these individuals. However, that does not mean that we should abandon them to be subject to inhuman treatment or to be transferred to regimes in countries where their lives would be in danger.
My Lords, I appreciate the clarification provided by the Minister regarding the status of these people in Camp Ashraf. However, in light of the Iraqi Government’s pledge that these people will not be forcibly repatriated to Iran, have Her Majesty’s Government been in any discussions with the Iraqi Government as to whether they might be given political asylum in this country?
As I said, the UK Government have no locus in Iraq in relation to these people. The discussions have been held internationally through the United States, which had control prior to the ending of the Geneva Convention status. That status was given in the first place only because the Americans chose to accept and adopt it, rather than because there was any international obligation. It is clear that there is no nation—alas, it might be said—for these individuals outside the country that they are in, albeit that they are very reluctantly accepted; no other country is prepared to give residence status to them.
My Lords, following the violence that was perpetrated on residents of Camp Ashraf, Members of the House of Lords met the Minister, Ivan Lewis, who promised to make representations when he visited Iraq and to convey our concern. The Minister has given the answer in relation to making representations, but what was the response of the Iraqi Government?
The Iraqi Government agreed to put in place an inquiry, the results of which we do not know. My ministerial colleague Ivan Lewis will visit Iraq in December and will no doubt keep the promise that he made to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and colleagues to raise this issue at the highest level.
My Lords, there are many settlements around the world of people who are unwelcome in the country from which they have fled and unwelcome in the country to which they have fled. The United Nations does a considerable job in getting them settled in third countries. What steps are we taking to assist that effort in this case?
The United Nations is seeking a solution to the problem but, as I hope I have explained, it is not easy when the country of origin sees the individuals as people who attack them and the country that they are in sees them as people who attack them. In that sense, we are protecting the humanitarian support for these individuals where they are and trying to ensure that they are humanely treated and not transported to other countries. But we have a very limited locus in this matter.