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Iraq: Camp Liberty

Volume 740: debated on Thursday 1 November 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to help expedite a resolution of the status of refugees currently in Camp Liberty, Iraq.

My Lords, in response to an appeal from the United Nations, we have agreed to consider the readmission to the United Kingdom, on an exceptional case-by-case basis, of those residents of Camp Liberty who have had previous residence in the UK as refugees. This is subject to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees first assessing their current refugee status. We cannot judge the outcome or duration of that process, but hope that it moves forward quickly.

I am grateful to the Minister. Can she tell us what the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy Martin Kobler has achieved towards helping to relocate more than 3,000 refugees forced to move from Camp Ashraf to a virtual concentration camp at Camp Liberty? Are our Government alarmed by the resignation of Tahar Boumedra, the head of the UNAMI mission in Iraq, in protest at the distortion of the facts within Mr Kobler’s reports to the United Nations? Have our Government made representations to the UN to have Kobler sacked and replaced?

The noble Lord raises some important issues. All noble Lords may not be familiar with the background to this matter but, effectively, the Special Representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler, has been accused by his adviser—according to his view—of not being entirely honest about the conditions in Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty. I do not agree with the noble Lord’s description of Camp Liberty as a concentration camp. He will be familiar with the fact that Iraq signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, UNAMI, at the end of last year to move residents to Camp Liberty, with a view to them being assessed by the United Nations as to their refugee status and being relocated. I have concerns, which we have raised with the United Nations, but we are assured that the conditions within Camp Liberty meet the basic humanitarian standards.

Is the Minister aware, as I am sure she is, that these people expected to be under UN protection and were transferred from Camp Ashraf where the conditions were absolutely appalling? They had every expectation that Camp Liberty would at least have slightly better conditions but this does not appear to be the case. No matter what the resolution of the situation ultimately is, the people there must be looked after properly. At the moment they clearly are not so what can be done to improve their condition?

I looked at this matter in some detail and at the situation in Iraq generally. Sadly, not all the residents in Iraq have 24-hour electricity and not all the residents have running water at all times in the quantities they require. In the backdrop, despite the fact that many individuals living in this particular camp may not be happy with the conditions, they have 24-hour electricity and 24-hour running water. It meets the basic humanitarian needs.

Although my noble friend says again that the Government are not in a position to judge the outcome or duration of the UNHCR’s verification of the applications for refugee status by the former Ashraf residents, 10 months after the process was agreed in the memorandum of understanding between the UN and Iraq, did not the UNHCR issue a statement on 13 September saying that they were now asylum seekers under international law whose claims required adjudication? Will my noble friend therefore grant the 52, who were formerly refugees here, leave to enter so that the renewal of their status here can be confirmed by the UKBA after any necessary checks for that purpose?

I can confirm that five residents have already been readmitted to the United Kingdom. They had refugee status in the United Kingdom and had relevant documentation. A further 52 do not have current regularised documentation but have had refugee status in the United Kingdom before. We are considering those applications, but I am sure that noble Lords would agree that time has passed since these people left the United Kingdom and their coming back in. It is right that we consider what they have been involved in in the mean time to ensure that any concerns that we may have are properly addressed.

My Lords, is it not the case that this business has been hanging on for far too long and does the noble Baroness agree that the United States has a considerable responsibility in the matter, having given Camp Ashraf people protected status?

The noble Lord will be aware that the situation in relation to this group who are members of the Mujaheddin e Khalq has been ongoing in Iraq since the mid-1980s when they moved their headquarters there. It was right that the United Nations found a solution to this matter and it is right that these people are being properly considered for relocation. We continue to urge the United Nations to act with expediency.

The Minister may not agree with the description given by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, about the concentration camp status of Camp Liberty. Why does she think all those people around the world have been protesting about the high walls, the lack of sanitation and the denial of medical facilities that are commonplace in Camp Liberty? What is the Government’s view on the duplicitous role of the Iraqi Government in carrying out the Mullahs’ wishes from Iran in getting the residents of Ashraf moved, as they were, after promising that they would get proper treatment? Whether the Minister or the Government like it or not, the facts are that it is not the case that they have been treated properly. They have been treated appallingly and it is about time that we spoke out louder.

As I said, I have looked into this matter in some detail. Allegations were raised and it was important that we assured ourselves, taking evidence from United Nations, about the current conditions in the camp. I assure the noble Lord that there is no appeasement of the Iranian regime in any of this. He will also be aware that this group, the Mujaheddin e Khalq, is not part of the opposition movement in Iran. We saw in 2009, when the Green Movement came to the streets, that it distanced itself from the Mujaheddin e Khalq.